Music Review: Mixed results with Beethoven
By Jim Lowe
Staff Writer | January 25,2013
BURLINGTON — Highly unusual for a young string quartet, the most satisfying performance in an all-Beethoven program Wednesday was one of the Late Quartets — perhaps the deepest and most musically demanding music “the titan” of composers wrote.
At the College Street Congregational Church, the Ariel Quartet, formed in Israel and now quartet in residence at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, delivered performances of one each of Beethoven’s Early Quartets, Middle Quartets and Late Quartets.
The program was the second of six, sponsored by Mel Kaplan’s Vermont Summer Music Festival, of the complete “Beethoven Cycle” of string quartets over the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 seasons, initiated by the Ying Quartet.
Beethoven’s Early Quartets represent the composer’s crowning of the Classical era; the Middle Quartets reveal early Romantic yearnings. But the Late Quartets transcend period and represent the composer’s pinnacle: pure, abstract music delving as deeply as just about any performer or audience is capable of understanding.
The Quartet in c-sharp minor, Opus 131, is one of the Late Quartets. While superficially lyrical and beautiful, it’s anything but “Beethoven lite.” The complex work takes the performer and audience to exalted musical levels.
The Ariel Quartet — Alexandra Kazovsky and Gershon Gerchikov, violist Jan Grünig and cellist Amit Even-Tov — despite having to stop twice for broken viola strings, revealed the work’s inner complexities with clarity and lyrically beautiful playing. Kazofsky in particular used her highly accurate technique and expressiveness in leading a cohesive and beautiful performance.
Although Wednesday’s performance of Opus 131 lacked the gravitas that comes with musical maturity, the excellent playing resulted in a rich and rewarding experience.
The Ariel’s performances of Early (Quartet in F Major, Opus 18, No. 1) and Middle (Quartet in F Major, Opus 59, No. 1) quartets proved less successful, though still well played. Gerchikov, who took the first violin role in these two, had intonation issues in both quartets and over-interpreted many of the lines, making them more complex than they are in both quartets. Still, he delivered some tender and intensively beautiful playing in the Adagio of the Opus 59, No. 1.
Grünig, the violist, often failed to blend in these two quartets, perhaps reflecting the string problems to come. The result was far less refined performances than the Opus 131.
The Ariel Quartet is a fine young virtuoso ensemble, with its members perhaps nearing 30, and one well worth watching as it grows.
The Vermont Summer Music Festival will present the Leipzig String Quartet at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 13, at the College Street Congregational Church in Burlington. The third of the six-part “Beethoven Cycle” of string quartets, the program will feature the Quartet in B-flat Major, Opus 18, No. 6; Quartet in f minor, Opus 95 (“Serioso”); and Quartet in E-flat Major, Opus 127. Tickets are $35; call the Flynn Regional Box Office, 863-5966, or go online to www.flynntix.org.