Novello Quartet plays period music with audacity

Moody, ebullient and exotic is what they challenge themselves to be.

Tekla Cunningham

Moody, ebullient and exotic is what they challenge themselves to be.

No, they are not soap opera stars but musicians.

The Novello Quartet returns to the Northwest at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 24 at St. Augustine’s in-the-Woods Episcopal Church on Honeymoon Bay Road in Freeland.

Tekla Cunningham and Cynthia Miller Freivogel play violin, Anthony Martin plays the viola and Elisabeth Reed plays the violincello with a program exploring the moody romanticism of Mendelssohn’s “Quartet No. 4 in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2,” Mozart’s ebullient and tender “Hoffmeister String Quartet K.499” and the exotic timbre of Hoffmeister’s “D Major Viola d’Amore Quartet.”

The Novello Quartet, who performs on period instruments and bows and gut strings, has been described as bringing a clarity and warmth to the period instruments that they play along with a certain “audacity” that is necessary to do justice to the work of these great composers.

The viola d’amore, Italian for “love viol,” is a rare and wondrous instrument, Cunningham said.

The majority of violas d’amore have fourteen strings — seven playing strings and seven additional resonating or sympathetic strings. It looks more like a viol than a violin, though it has no frets. The sympathetic strings create a silvery and extremely resonant halo of sound when the upper strings are bowed.

Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s father, said of the viola d’amore in his “Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing” that, “It is a distinctive kind of fiddle which sounds especially charming in the stillness of the evening.”

The Novello Quartet was founded in 2002 to perform Joseph Haydn’s rarely performed “Seven Last Words of Christ.”

The quartet’s passion for the music of Haydn and his contemporaries has led to an ongoing artistic partnership between these four exceptional early music artists.

The quartet recently completed its first recording, of Haydn’s op. 50 string quartets No. 1, 3 and 5, scheduled for release later this year.

This concert will give music lovers a preview of the quality of sound they can look forward to hearing from these players when they return to the island for the annual Whidbey Island Music Festival Aug. 8 through Aug. 17.

“We are delighted to be returning to the acoustically delightful St. Augustine’s in-the-Woods and are looking forward to playing for the wonderful Whidbey audience,” Cunningham said.

The Novello Quartet also plays at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 25 at the Queen Anne Christian Church in Seattle.

Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for students and seniors and can be purchased at or by calling 800-838-3006.

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