On Friday, April 25, in the Nelson Music Room (which, for the record, is now accessible, somewhat circuitously, to persons with disabilities), the Ciompi Quartet of Duke University concluded its 2002-3 season with a fine program consisting of music by Mozart and Janácek, bracketing the nominal world premiere of Paul Schonfield’s String Quartet No. 2 “In Memoriam” (2003).

The new work, also given the night before on the Quartet’s First Course series, at the Duke University Museum of Art, is in five movements, marked Aubade, Nigun, Ballade, Soliloquy and In Memoriam. It is apparently autobiographical, in part, but cellist Fred Raimi’s notes reveal that “the composer does not wish… the details of the work’s narrative to be made public.” Continuing, Raimi writes, “All that we know for now is that the quartet was born of circumstances in the composer’s life involving a renewed relationship and a sad parting” and that “the title ‘In Memoriam’ suggests that the parting was due to death.” As the marking reveals, the second movement is rooted in Jewish liturgical music. Raimi also says that the third movement conveys a “typically crazed, frenetic Klezmer-like feeling,” although several members of the audience failed to detect the link. And the melody of the fourth movement “is based on the inflections of the Hebrew version of Psalm 50.” The result is clearly an intensely personal work, one that gripped the audience at the performance and elicited considerable during the intermission. We trust that the Ciompi Quartet will perform the new composition again, and frequently.

The concert began with Mozart’s last quartet, the third of the so-called Prussian Quartets, in F, K.590. It is a relatively short work, and it received a performance that had a great deal going for it. For reasons that remain unclear to this writer, ensembles – ranging from chamber groups to orchestras – tend to be able to do either Mozart or Haydn well, but generally not both. The Ciompi Quartet is a happy exception to the norm, and its performances of important scores by both composers have been among its most memorable accomplishments. In this case, there were some minor ensemble problems in the third movement that will surely be worked out before the piece appears on another Ciompi program – which it will, on May 11, at the NC Museum of Art.

The evening ended with Janácek’s Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters.” It, too, is autobiographical – it is, in effect, a love letter from the composer to a much younger woman. The Ciompi played this on March 21, in Chapel Hill, accompanied by yet another piece with clear autobiographical overtones, a new Quartet by Samuel Zyman (the review is in our March archives). Suffice it to say that Janácek’s Second Quartet is a welcome addition to the Ciompi’s repertoire and that the Nelson Music Room performance was outstanding in every respect. We are richly blessed to have a chamber ensemble of this caliber living and working in the Triangle, and the response of the enthusiastic audience on this occasion merely underscored the esteem in which its distinguished members are held.

At the risk of being self-serving, we invite our readers to hear the Ciompi Quartet’s aforementioned May 11 concert at the NC Museum of Art. The program includes a repeat of Mozart’s K.590 and, among other things, music by Roger Hannay and Mark Kuss and Fauré’s First Piano Quartet, with Jane Hawkins. Proceeds from ticket sales for this program, which is on the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild’s Sights and Sounds on Sundays series, will benefit the Guild and CVNC. For details, please see our calendar.