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Ariel Quartet at the Corcoran

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • January 31, 2011

The Ariel Quartet's members are no slouches; they work hard, and they crank out virtuosity by the bucketful and passion by the yard. Why, then, did their recital on Friday night at the Corcoran Gallery feel so curiously flat?

The Ariel QuartetMaybe it was the wobbly start to the evening, when the Corcoran's technicians forgot to turn on the stage lights, leaving the hapless Ariel to play Beethoven's Quartet in D, Op. 18, No. 3 in the dim gloom. The opening Allegro of that engaging work should have brightened the place up a bit, but instead came off as lifeless and lacking in momentum, and the group didn't start generating electricity until the closing Presto. Better late than never, but still.

In their defense, the Ariel is still a very, very young quartet. Its members are all in their early 20s, and their strengths, at this stage, are remarkable technical ability and ample supplies of youthful passion. But as the evening wore on, it was clear they burned like straw rather than coal, producing brilliant flashes of light but little lasting heat. Their reading of Alban Berg's String Quartet, Op. 3, for instance, was fiery, intelligent and exceptionally detailed - a treat to hear. Yet for all its interest, the performance felt thin and choreographed, like a staged fight where the punches look real but don't actually connect.

Things warmed up a bit when the much-admired violist Roger Tapping joined the Ariel for Mozart's Viola Quintet in D, K. 593, though it was hard to ignore the contrast between Tapping's seasoned, deliberate power - when he punches, he connects - and the earnest fiddling around him. But these are still early days for the Ariel, and as their passion deepens into insight, the group looks set to accomplish impressive things.

Posted on Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 10:58AM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | Comments2 Comments

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Reader Comments (2)

Hi, Stephen,
I had a very different reaction to the Ariel Quartet's concert. Rather than being critical about the Quartet members' youth, I am excited about their prospects. And I don't understand criticizing them for how they played in the dark!
Still, it is great that you did come to the concert. I hope to see you at the series again.
Susan Joseph, Co-Chair, Musical Evening Series
February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Joseph
Hi Susan -- Thanks for your comments!

But ... I'm troubled that you think I was critical of the fact that they are young! As a former twenty-something myself, I can assure you I hold no bias. In fact, I specifically praised their "remarkable technical ability and ample supplies of youthful passion." (Qualities that, frankly, I wish I had more of myself...)

But in fairness to them, I can't just give them a pass because of their youth. I'm sure they want to be critiqued just as toughly and honestly as I would write about the Emerson or the Guarneri. And to my ears, their interpretations sounded thin at this stage in their development. I agree with you that their prospects are exciting -- as I said in my closing line, "the group looks set to accomplish impressive things." So we're in agreement ... I think?

As for "playing in the dark" -- well, the house lights were on, so it was a bit dim but hardly pitch black. I was surprised they didn't just yell backstage for someone to flick the switch. But anyway, the problem was not being able to see the notes -- it was in making sense out of them.

Hope to see you at the series again soon!
February 11, 2011 | Registered CommenterStephen Brookes

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