in: Reviews

August 21, 2017

Great Substitutions

by

Pianist Ran Dank had been inked to join the Amernet String Quartet on Sunday at Maverick Concerts in Woodstock, and the Bard Music Festival had expected him two days earlier, but he wound up in the hospital with kidney stones instead. Fortunately, the Amernet gave us a memorable afternoon anyway, possibly even an improved one.

The concert began as scheduled, with the always welcome charmer Wolf’s Italian Serenade. The foursome played it beautifully, although with heavy, thick tone which occasionally suggested the ensemble was trying to emulate Wolf’s string orchestra version. There were also a few moments when the dynamics seemed exaggerated, but never mind. It was still highly enjoyable.

In place of the scheduled Zarebski Piano Quintet, which would have been one real novelty, we got another, Erwin Schulhoff’s String Quartet No. 1, composed in 1924 when the Schulhoff was 30. The Nazis murdered him 18 years later. This fairly early Schulhoff betrays some immaturity in the stylistic differences among the movements. But the content of each shows the composer already in his prime. The first movement, Presto con fuoco marches rather sarcastically in a Stravinsky-ish neoclassical style, appropriately, very big and loud. The second, Allegretto con moto e con malinconia grotesca is, as the indication suggests, humorous. It’s also more adventurous in style than the first movement, including passages in artificial harmonics which were superbly executed. The third movement, Allegro giocoso alla Slovacca, reveals Bartókian, folk-influence; it sounds like a finale.

Amernet String Quartet (file photo)

By far the works’s longest, the fourth movement, Andante molto sostenuto, provides the emotional heart of the piece. The depth of the players’ feeling was exemplary. Throughout this quartet, the Amernet players took on all technical challenges with brio and confidence, and they definitely sold the piece to the audience, which responded with great enthusiasm. The Amernets responded by treating us to a first-half encore, the concluding Tarantelle from Schulhoff’s Five Pieces for String Quartet. The wild take on this wild music brought another ovation.

It would have been a treat to hear Dvořák’s Second Piano Quartet, a badly underexposed piece, and I hope we’ll get it next season. Instead, though, the Amernets gave us Dvorák’s Quartet in G Major, Op. 106, which we should also hear more often. It’s actually slightly earlier than Op. 105 but I don’t care; they’re both masterpieces. The first movement sounds like an operatic love duet. (Perhaps I’m still thinking of Dvořák’s opera Dmitrij, which I saw recently at Bard.) The very big and emphatic execution did not overstress the music. The second movement, a gorgeous song, disclosed the only flaw of the concert, as first violinist Misha Vitenson’s tone turned shrill in its upper register. It was a fleeting problem. The quartet responded in kind to the third movement, which sounds almost a Slavonic dance. In the deliciously rambling finale, the ensemble might at times have been trying a bit too hard to become a string orchestra. Altogether, they offered this glorious music irresistibly.

Leslie Gerber, who lives in Woodstock, New York, has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.

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