mozart + grumiaux = perfection


As I was listening to a portion of the Kairos Ensemble rehearsing for tonight’s upcoming benefit concert for Portland’s Phame Academy, I was struck (again) by just how great Mozarts quintets for strings (two violins, two violas, and cello) are. They are doing his great D major, K. 593 quintet, which I had the pleasure of performing at the Tanglewood Music Center for my last chamber ensemble performance there (more on that in a future post). There are quite a few recordings of the Mozart string quintets, but few great ones.  There are really two recordings in the non-HIP (historically-informed performance) tradition, a set by the Guarneri Quartet (with guest violists Steven Tenenbom, Kim Kashkashian, and Ani & Ida Kavafian) which is finally available on an CD (Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3) and the great complete set by the great Belgiqn violinist Arthur Grumiaux and friends, which is available as an Amazon download and on CD.

Arthur Grumiaux

There is such a suave, Gallic sensibility to how Grumiaux and his ensemble play these great works of Mozart, and in particular the slow movements. I think that the slow movement of the K. 593 quintet might be one of the greatest of the many that Mozart wrote (including those of his other quintets, in particular the great pair of K. 515 in C major and K. 516 in g minor) – it is quite perfect in a way that no one other than JS Bach quite achieved. Take a listen:


And a video of Grumiaux playing part of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto:

RIP – David Soyer, longtime cellist of Guarneri Quartet

Color photo: © Peter Schaaf/

It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of the great cellist David Soyer today, one day after his 87th birthday.  He was the founding cellist of the legendary Guarneri Quartet, with which he played from 1964 to 2001.  His former student Peter Wiley took over after Soyer’s retirement, the sole personnel change in the history of the ensemble.

Mr. Soyer was a gruff and imposing presence.  I had the great privilege of working with the members of the Guarneri Quartet as part of a graduate fellowship program at the University of Maryland.  We would have a few days of coachings and lessons each month when the quartet came to DC, usually with one open rehearsal and a performance, either at the university or nearby.  Coachings with Mr. Soyer were literally lessons in the “no-spin zone”.  If what you played sucked, he’d tell you, and in no uncertain terms!  Usually, if it was good, nothing was said.  The cellist in our quartet, Beth, had Mr. Soyer wrapped around her little finger.  She came across as all sweetness and light, but was steely tough, and it seemed that Mr. Soyer respected that.  Plus she could charm the socks off of him.  I remember very vividly coaching the Beethoven Op. 130 quartet with him and with the other members of the Guarneri Quartet, and think about what I learned in those precious hours whenever I return to the piece.

If you listen to any of their dozens of recordings (most reissued in both a boxed set and individual digital downloads), you’ll often hear the low grunting of Mr. Soyer as he lays into the vigorous downbeats of the Smetana Quartet “From My Life”, or the solo from Wolf’s Italian Serenade, or Beethoven’s Grosse Fuga.

[link] – New York Times notice
[link] – New York Times obituary
[link] – Alex Ross’ blog @ The New Yorker
[link] – Anthony McGill’s blog (principal clarinet, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra)

guarneri violinist has cancer

Photo credit: Dorothea von Haeften[L-R] John Dalley, Michael Tree, Arnold Steinhardt, David Wiley

Photo credit: Dorothea von Haeften

David Stabler reported today that John Dalley, the second violinist of the Guarneri Quartet (which is in its last season as an ensemble this year), has been stricken with cancer.

John really has been the drive within the quartet – the id to Arnold Steinhardt’s superego.  His deep, focused tone has always been a firm foundation for Arnold’s gossamer strains, an intregral part to one of the world’s great quartets.

I remember when I was at the University of Maryland, where the quartet was in a teaching residency, and I would have lessons on various repertoire with each of the members of the quartet when they came once a month to the school.  I brought in the Bruch Romanze to John for a lesson once, and he played the opening phrase on his violin – one version after another, five, six, seven different ways to phrase this one musical sentence, each equally valid, each equally compelling.  It was amazing to watch, and I learned so much just from watching his fingers and bow arm make these very different musical nuances.

My thoughts go out to John, his family, and his compatriots in the quartet – I hope that treatment is successful and he continues to make great music.