Ariel Quartet Gives High-energy Concert

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by David K. Rodgers

GREENSBORO – The Ariel Quartet came to Greensboro, on August 8, and performed a high energy concert in the Greensboro United Church of Christ consisting of three quartets by Haydn, Beethoven and Mendelssohn, which gave us an overview of the evolution of the quartet form from the 18th into the 19th centuries.

The four members of this group are all professors at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, with Alexandra Azovsky and Gershon Gerchikof on violins, Amit Even-Tov on cello and Jan Grüning on viola.

They began with the “Quartet in F Minor, Op. 20, No.5” by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), who was significant in developing the style in the 18 quartets he wrote between 1769 and 1772 while resident Kapellmeister for Prince Anton Esterhazy in Hungary. The work begins with a Moderato movement that had a nice flow, with the initial theme given several variations, the first violin noticeably leading the direction of the music, with the other instruments more in a continuo mode. The following Minuet had dance rhythms in a well shaped melody, while the third section, and Adagio, had a slower tempo with consistent harmonic support among the players. The finale was a Fugue in which the tune was explored counter-punctually in baroque arabesques. The Ariel Quartet performed with a commanding intensity and highly integrated ensemble effort.

Ludwig von Beethoven (1770-1827) wrote some 16 quartets, of which the last four, in particular, remain among the most astonishingly original and mystical in the whole chamber music repertoire. The “Quartet in B flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6” was composed around 1801 and illustrated a more equal sharing of the melodic line among all the strings in an intricate coordination. As the work commences with an Allegro con brio, the music take off at a fast pace with vigorous interaction between the first and second melodies. The Adagio ma non troppo had a slower tempo with a more serious tone and an interesting ending. Beethoven is, from the beginning, a master of the unexpected. The third movement, Scherzo Allegro, had curious skipping rhythms and a somewhat straddling, downward spiraling second theme, but the last section had the greatest originality in its extended notation: a Malinconia Adagio-Allegretto, quasi Allegro-Adagio-Allegretto-poco Adagio Prestissimo! Here, Beethoven plays with our anticipations, repeatedly changing from restrained tempos and a certain tension to accelerated passages culminating with a race to the end. The Ariel Quartet performed with consummate musicality in their interpretation and impressive virtuosity.

The final work on the program was the “Quartet in D Major, Op.44, No. 1” by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) written between 1837-1839, by which time Romanticism was in full bloom in Western European culture. The piece, beginning with a Moloto Allegro vivace, had an immediately engaging melody from the first bars with great momentum in the tempo as Mendelssohn takes us into his world. Followed by a second theme as beautiful as the first, all with a wonderful positive enthusiasm. Further elaborations of these tunes with changes in the notation in each repeat in imaginative ways were a sheer delight. The Minuetto, Un poco allegretto, proceeded with five melodies, in the alterations of the sonata progression, with well articulated surges in the dynamics, while the third movement, Andante Espressivo ma non molto, had intimate themes that really sang in a lovely scoring. The final part, Presto con brio, had fast tempos with rich harmonics and a touch of counterpoint as it built to a dramatic ending, all of which again showed the Ariel Quartet playing as one organic entity, which earned them a standing ovation from the appreciative audience.

This was the last of the four concerts in the Summer Music from Greensboro season, which has given us stellar artists in performances that were truly memorable. We certainly look forward to next summer!