Blood may be thicker than water, but it's still no match for the Mendelssohn
or a nice late Haydn quartet.
You might have spent the better part of Wednesday night's Philadelphia Chamber Music Society mash-up of the Jasper and Jupiter quartets pondering family dynamics; there are, among and within the two groups, three siblings and two marriages, all stemming from the impossibly musical surname of Freivogel.
Filial layers extended into the local premiere in the Perelman Theater of Dan Visconti's Eternal Breath. The 2011 work was commissioned to honor the 40th wedding anniversary of Bill and Margaret Freivogel, progenitors both musical and familial as parents or parents-in-law to five of the players.
Was there significance to augmenting seven standard Western stringed instruments with a shruti box, the droning Indian vessel of bellows? Harmonically, we were somewhere in the East, but the piece is characteristic of the 31-year-old stylistic polymath (who has drawn on pop, bluegrass, and jazz). There's a crushing sadness emanating from Eternal Breath borne of string evocations of the human voice - a repeated kind of pleasant wailing. Full of longing and echoes, it suggests multitudes, but spiritually it falls like an antidote on a distracted world. It is the sound of contemporary pilgrimage, perhaps to a place within one's self.
Streaks of individualism within a family seemed apt. These differences extended to vivid characterizations in Mendelssohn's celebrated String Octet in E Flat Major, Opus 20. And yet, while it added dimension to hear cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel's brighter sound next to cellist Daniel McDonough's mistier one, you had to feel that first violinist Nelson Lee couldn't quite fill the air with enough sound to realize the full euphoria of the first movement. Haydn's String Quartet in G Minor, Opus 74, No. 3, "The Rider," was rendered with a soft edge that grew enervating.
Shostakovich's Two Pieces for String Octet is a bear, but the combined quartets were in command technically and emotionally. The work asks for both deeply soulful individual lines, and, in spots, for a player to meld her sound into that of another. In both the spacious opening and in more thickly populated passages, the Jasper and Jupiter spoke emphatically, and in total assent.