By Dr. Luis Dias

Joji Hattori & Vienna Chamber Orchestra String Quartet

Joji Hattori, Violin I

Lily Francis, Violin II

Sergey Malov, Viola

Luis Zorita, Cello

Kala Academy Indoor Auditorium, 3 April 2010

The concert got off to a late start, with the opening movement (Allegro ma non tanto) of Beethoven’s String Quartet in C minor Op. 18, no. 4. C minor is a key that Beethoven chose for some of his most emotionally charged works, notably his path-breaking Fifth Symphony. This movement is also steeped in this “stormy, heroic tonality”, from the outset, with constant forward energy instead of the pathos often associated with a minor key.

The next work had a surprise, as the Austrian ambassador Dr. Ferdinand Maultaschl took his place at the piano for the first movement (Allegro) of Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478. Mozart’s publisher Hoffmeister felt this quartet was too difficult for his customers, largely amateurs. A Weimar magazine wrote that it “can in truth hardly bear listening when it falls into amateurish hands”. Our talented ambassador therefore had his work cut out for him all through the movement. In Mozart’s most dramatic key G minor (also the key of his famous symphony number 40), the piano part has passages of concerto-level virtuosity while still being an equal partner in the music. The tuning of the piano (especially in the middle register) unfortunately was a casualty of the temperature fluctuation in the airconditioned hall.

Although the next piece was introduced as a Serenade from a string quartet by Haydn, it is now acknowledged to be the second movement of String Quartet in F major, Op. 3 No. 5 by Roman Hofstetter, a later composer, Benedictine monk, and great Haydn admirer, to the point of imitation. In this charming work, Hattori’s muted violin glided effortlessly over the pizzicato accompaniment of his colleagues.

Then followed two movements from a Schubert string quartet (No. 7 in D, D94), apparently nicknamed the “Wine” quartet on account of the hiccup-like motif in the upper strings in the first movement.

Mozart was then revisited, with the outer movements of his “Dissonance” (C major, K. 465) string quartet, one of his more radical compositions. Despite being in the “sunny” tonality of C major, the level of dissonance in the opening movement as the instruments make their entrance one by one, is disquieting even today, and provoked speculation that the original score must have contained errors, with attempts to re-write it! Hattori’s players carried it off with verve and dynamism, listening intently to each other.

The concert closed with Johann Strauss Jr’s Frühlingsstimmen (Voices of Spring) waltz. Written to include a soprano solo accompaniment, a paean to spring, this transcription for string quartet effectively evoked the salons of Alt Wien.

The encore piece was also by Strauss Jr., the delightful Annen Polka, described by Barenboim as “one of the most perfect examples of slow polka”. Written to commemorate Annen-Fest (Feast of St. Anne), it is also a nod to his mother Anna, and a riposte to his father and rival, Strauss Sr, who had composed Beliebte Annen-Polka a decade earlier.

On that very jaunty note, the evening came to an end.


(An edited version of this article appeared in the Herald, Goa India on 6 April 2010)