Arts & Events

New Falcon String Quartet in Vallejo

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Thursday March 10, 2016 - 10:05:00 PM

On Sunday, March 6, the New Falcon String Quartet gave its debut performance under the aegis of Vallejo Symphony Orchestra at Vallejo’s First Presbyterian Church. This group of eminent musicians formed only five weeks earlier, arising phoenix-like out of the ashes of another group, which was to bear the name Peregrine Quartet. Dissension in the first group led to its dissolution as two musicians departed, and a second group was formed, comprising musicians who had performed with the Mendocino Music Festival. Standing before a statue of a falcon in Mendocino, the musicians, mindful of the former name Peregrine Quartet, hit on the name New Falcon String Quartet. It seems a happy choice. The New Falcon String Quartet is comprised of Joseph Gold on first violin, Dan Kristianson on second (and occasional first) violin, Raphael Gold on viola, and Burke Schuchmann on cello. All are experienced as members of Bay Area symphonies, and they have also performed widely in the USA and abroad. 

The program for their debut performance included Mozart’s Divertimento in F Major, K. 138, Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2, and Dvořák’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, “American Quartet.” Opening the program was Mozart’s Divertimento No. 3 in F Major, K. 138. Written weeks after Mozart returned to Salzburg with his father in December 1771 after his second, enormously successful and inspiring trip to Italy, this divertimento may have been intended by Mozart to be a work for string quartet. However, it is usually encountered these days as a work for string orchestra. Scholars note, however, that the title “Divertimento” is written by a hand other than Mozart’s above the original score; and it may well be that single instruments were intended to carry the lines rather than the massed instrumentation of a string orchestra. In any case, the two outer movements are fast-paced and feature the first violin, here played by Joseph Gold, whose tone seemed occasionally shrill. The middle or second movement is a slow Andante, and there is a fine interplay and exchange of lead between first violin and cello. As played by New Falcon String Quartet, however, this lovely Andante failed to flow smoothly, and it risked bogging down in all too slow tempos. By contrast, the two brisk outer movements were noteworthy for fine interaction and taut execution.
Next on the program was Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2. This work was written in 1837 while Mendelssohn was on his honey-moon. The first movement is an extended elaboration of themes Mendelssohn would later use in his Concerto for Violin. It begins with the first violin, here played by Dan Kristianson, sounding out the first theme in the low range of his instrument. Later, there are pizzicato pluckings by the cellist, here played by Burke Schuchmann, who was principal cellist and soloist with the Salzburger Solisten in Austria before coming to the Bay Area. In the succeeding Scherzo, the first violin plays quite high in its register. There follows a lovely Andante, introduced by the viola, the second violinist, and the cellist. When the first violin enters, it plays a sweetly sentimental melody over the bass. The final movement, a Presto agitato, begins with an all-out attack, followed by pizzicato plucking from the cello. A lilting phrase is developed and leads to a rousing tutti finale. 

After intermission, New Falcon String Quartet returned to play Antonín Dvořák’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, “American Quartet.” This work was written while Dvořák was living in the Czech-American farming community of Spillville, Iowa, in 1893. Traces of American spirituals or Native American rhythms may or may not be found in this work, but Dvořák himself noted that Haydn’s music was much on his mind at this time, and as a consequence he wrote straightforward melodic lines, much to the popular success of this work. The opening theme is played by the viola, an instrument Dvořák himself played. In the performance by New Falcon String Quartet, the burnished sound of violist Raphael Gold was noteworthy, especially perhaps when accompanied by pizzicato plucking from cellist Burke Schuchmann. The second movement, marked Lento, opens with shimmering violins over pizzicato cello. Soon the cello states the principal theme. Later, the pizzicatos are shared out among all four instruments. In the third movement, marked Molto vivace, the cello opens followed by the first violin. In the fourth and final movement, the work proceeds rapidly to a brisk conclusion. All told, this was an impressive debut performance by the newly formed New Falcon String Quartet that I look forward to hearing many times in the future to see how they develop.