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Risus Quartet performs at Notre Dame

| Thursday, October 14, 2021

Claire Kirner | The Observer

This past Sunday, Oct. 10, the Risus Quartet graced us with a marvelous performance at LaBar Recital Hall. Named after the Latin word for laughter, the ensemble certainly brought much pleasure to audience members. This event was the first of a vast and layered Presenting Series, wherein the Risus Quartet will continue to spread joy throughout their widespread destinations. After obtaining the Fischoff prize and traveling through the Fischoff Double Gold Tour, the Risus are eager to amass further distinguishment in the upcoming Trondheim International Chamber Music Competition in Norway and the Bartók World Competition in Budapest, Hungary.

Violinists Haeni Lee and Jieun Yoo, cellist Bobae Lee and violist Mary Eukyung Chang, first bonded over their love for chamber music at Seoul National University. From then on, their lives would be entwined as they graduated from Yale School of Music and Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. Now, they are further enhancing their musical prowess at the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas. As members of the Samick Cultural Foundation as well as the Busan Classical Development Council, the group promotes diversity and inclusion across the world of classical music.  After this week’s performance, it is easy to observe their interest in a multiplicity of genres.

The Risus selected a rich and diverse repertoire, featuring four string quartets: Joseph Haydn’s No.4 “Sunrise,” Béla Bartók’s No.3, Franz Schubert’s No.12 and Felix Mendelssohn’s No.6.

The first piece contains four movements each with a unique and profound interpretation. It was appropriately dubbed “Sunrise,” for the slow, lyrical themes of the first movement clearly evoke such imagery. While demonstrating the order and precision of the Classical period, it simultaneously manages to convey dynamic variations and tension-filled contrasts. You may encounter extensive, searching phrases or sporadic trills that surge with animation. The second movement, on its part, carries the solemnity of a procession with creeping notes pining within high registers. The climbing of these suspenseful and majestic phrases collects to a masterful deceptive cadence, after which the concluding trajectory resolves with thoughtfully planned out satisfaction. It is a perfect segue into the joyful, euphoric dance of the third movement, an energetic tangle which seems to communicate a looming chaos behind its façade. Finally, the fourth movement transitions into a punctual march; although it also portrays a happy mood, it is partially subdued and also severe at times. One moment worthy of notice occurs when the melody waves through each of the four instruments sequentially, providing a stunning visual and auditory effect.

Bartók’s piece was the fiercest of them all, possessing frequent moments of extreme dissonance and incredibly strong bowing. There are certain techniques which produce unusual sound effects, not necessarily of a melodic kind but more for the telling of the drama. You can be startled by movie-like jump scares, thrilled by the sounds of “alarms” and glissandos or frustrated by how the instruments seem to want to harmonize but struggle and miss each other. The independence each member of the quartet develops here is astounding.

Schubert’s work is brief, yet sublime. It is impossible to listen to its rhythmic phrases and not to think of a mighty, galloping horse in the midst of a storm, or identify a playful theme as the image of swooping, rolling green hills. There is also much contrast in this piece as danger occasionally thunders across the lovely scene.

Mendelsshon’s piece is the perfect thing to listen to release all the stress from midterms. The first movement is startling, throwing tremolos everywhere and punctuating the feeling of saying multiple “no’s” to yourself in despair. It truly captures the rollercoaster of human emotion, transitioning from soft parts to crescendos in innovative ways. Whenever the music slows down, it still contains a note of keen anxiety. The developing melody tries to restrain the chaos, but to no avail. Following this, the second movement also places us in the stark middle of a conflict, with memorable tunes to represent the yearning for hope when there seems to be none. Epic is the only fitting word to describe the melodic theme, which seems to evoke a noble fight against an enemy. It keeps on circling in suspense, pausing only when the thematic phrase concludes in a brief, satisfactory motif. In the end, the third and fourth movements carry much of the same emotions, while still transmitting them in different ways. They are interspersed with contemplations of hope and notes which appear to emulate the beating of a heart.

Risus members were also generous enough to grant the audience an encore, playing the traditional Korean song, “Spring in My Hometown,” in a series of beautiful variations spanning multiple genres. We look forward to welcoming back the Risus Quartet for future performances, and in the meantime we can appreciate the fantastic artistry they gifted us with this week.


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About Marcelle Couto

Marcelle Couto is a freshman coursing the joint Philosophy/Theology major as well as Music. She is from São Paulo, Brazil, and was born in Rochester MN. Marcelle currently resides in Cavanaugh Hall.

Contact Marcelle