Inside the function hall of Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline, the Ariel Quartet embarked last night on an unforgettable musical journey that spanned centuries and explored diverse cultural influences under the theme of mixed identities. Blending works by Paul Ben Haim, Beethoven, Matan Porat, and Mendelssohn, the foursome demonstrated its prowess.
Paul Ben Haim’s Prelude gave us a delightful surprise how it combines modern Israeli influences with Western Classical traditions. The Quartet breathed life into this little-know gem, capturing the intricacies of its Mediterranean melodies. The Prelude’s sunny disposition and lively rhythms – especially underlined by Jan Grüning, the violist, set the tone for the rest of the evening, immediately captivating the audience’s attention. From the opening bars of Beethoven’s Quartet No. 6 in B-flat major, Op. 18/6 the individual players showcased their exceptional ensemble playing, seamlessly blending individual voices.
The Allegro con brio showcased technical prowess with Gershon Gerchikov standing out as the virtuoso first violin, as Beethoven’s spirited and energetic passages came across with precision and flair. The dialogues among the instruments, notably between Amit Even-Tov on the cello and the first violinist, proved engaging as each contributed a unique voice to the conversation. The Adagio ma non troppo entered a realm of profoundly introspective emotion. Their collective sensitivity and expressiveness left a lasting impression, particularly in the moments of hushed intensity. In Scherzo: Allegro, a playful interlude, quartet captured the composer’s mercurial mien, as the ensemble navigated the nimble pizzicato passages and the vibrant exchange of themes with remarkable finesse. As the players delved into the final movement, La Malinconia: Adagio – Allegretto quasi Allegro, they took impressive command of the strong contrasts between the different voices. The melancholic melodies alternated with moments of fiery brilliance, leaving us spellbound until the final note.
Matan Porat’s Four Ladino Songs (written for the quartet in 2022) brought a contemporary touch to the concert. As a composer-pianist, Porat skillfully incorporated elements of Ladino music, a language and culture close to his heart, into the string quartet genre. From the very first song, the quartet’s dedication to conveying the essence of Porat’s music was evident. The haunting melodies and rhythmic complexities transported the listeners to the vibrant world of Ladino culture. Each song, rich in emotion and storytelling, unfolded with exquisite craftsmanship. The Ariel Quartet demonstrated its versatility in tackling diverse musical idioms, immersing themselves in the fusion of tradition and innovation that defined Porat’s work. From the spirited exuberance of the second song to the introspective introspection of the third, the quartet embraced the emotional breadth of the music, leaving the audience profoundly moved.
Seasoned interpreters of the Romantic repertoire, the Ariel Quartet did not disappoint in Mendelssohn’s Quartet No. 3 in D Major, Op. 44 No. 1. From the opening Allegro vivace, they infused Mendelssohn’s music with vivacity and elegance — notably Alexandra Kazhovsky playing first violin. The lyrical melodies flowed effortlessly, and the interplay testified to advanced musical camaraderie. The Scherzo: Assai leggiero vivace danced with agility and unified rhythm and delightful precision. The group’s sensitivity shone once again, as they spun the Adagio non troppo into a web of tender phrases that tugged at the heartstrings. The quartet’s mastery of the technical challenges and their interpretive depth emerged particularly in the concluding Molto allegro e vivace; the Ariel Quartet navigated the ever-shifting moods with brilliance and finesse before the crowd erupted with gratitude.
The concert made a true believer of this writer, not only through the ensemble’s technical virtuosity but also from its deep connection to the scores. The Ariel Quartet’s harmonious unity and passionate dedication to its craft left an indelible mark.