The Concert Series at Wellesley College presented the Aviv String Quartet on Saturday, December 10th, at Houghton Chapel, a concert that was free and open to the public. Founded in Israel more than a decade ago, Aviv has traveled around the globe concertizing and accumulating awards from competitions and kudos from presses and audiences alike. Aviv means “spring” in Hebrew. Its members are Sergey Ostrovsky and Evgenia Epshtein, violins, Timur Yakubov, viola, and Aleksandr Khramouchin, cello.
Aviv, recently having recorded the three string quartets of Erwin Schulhoff on the Naxos label, opened with his String Quartet No. 1 composed in 1924. Born in Prague of Jewish-German parents in 1894, the anti-fascist pro-peace composer-pianist died in a concentration camp in 1942. Aviv stoutly announced the sweeping, barreling unisons of the opening Presto movement. Allegro giocoso alla slovacca perking with folk tunes and syncopated dance rhythms contained an attractive innocence all conveyed adroitly by Aviv.
The closing Andante molto sostenuto consisted of little more than two successive and prolonged textures noticeably repetitive in nature: recurring cries from isolated angular crescendos answered by a continuous weeping summoned through the interval of a minor third, plucked slowly on the cello (tears) and bowed on the viola, as in a rippling undercurrent. The very softest passages of Quartet No. 1 were mostly inaudible.
Hearing live for the first time this seldom played string quartet of a 30-year old Schulhoff writing in the post-World War I era awakened images of a time gone by, a county, a musician, another human remembered.
After Aviv’s performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 6 in F minor Op. 80, there was little doubt in the minds of listeners during the quartet’s Wellesley debut as to the its impressively wide range of accomplishments. However, in the Mendelssohn, as well as in Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 3 in F minor Op. 30, Aviv’s ambitiousness became evident. Its eagerness to inject life into each of these works became obvious. An overall restlessness, or anxiousness, pervaded. Their dependency on so detailed expressiveness detracted from the compositions’ moods, harmonic fabric, and momentum.
Nor was the space favorable to their performance. Easily 400 were in attendance, suggesting that the acoustics of the large open space would be positively affected, in particular, by a reduction in resonance. That might have been the case, at least to some extent, yet from my vantage point in the 5th row from the back of the chapel, cello pizzicatos frequently boomed tympani-like while high violin notes often rang out glockenspiel-like. Fortissimo passages rasped with the quartet’s bearing down on their bows.
David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. www.notescape.net.