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Ariel Quartet at the Kreeger Museum

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • October 25, 2015

Strange but true fact: some concert-goers just aren’t that crazy about string quartets.  Yes, they do deserve our pity, and our help.   But even for those benighted souls, Schubert’s single-movement Quartet in C minor, D. 703 — alias the “Quartettsatz“ — is hard to resist: lovely, lyrical and (best of all) over in a flash.

Alban BergIn other words, it’s not much more than a musical “appetizer,” as the Ariel Quartet’s Jan Gruning put it at the start of the group’s performance at the Kreeger Museum on Saturday night.  And having dispatched the Schubert with offhand ease, this fine young ensemble quickly turned serious, taking on two of the most emotionally and spiritually probing works in the entire repertoire.

First up was Alban Berg’s “Lyric Suite,” from 1926.  It’s a masteriece in every way, a work of such imagination and psychological power and raw aching beauty — despite being written in Schoenberg’s loved-by-almost-nobody twelve-tone system — that other chamber works from the period just scurry away in shame.  The Ariel players turned in a gripping and often very subtle reading, setting ear-melting tenderness against seething passion with a deft and precise touch.

After an alarmingly long intermission — seriously, whole empires had time to rise and fall — the Ariel returned for Beethoven’s Quartet in A minor, Op. 132.  The program notes helpfully pointed out that Beethoven wrote the work while suffering from “bowel inflammation,” but that seems to not quite explain either the spiritual agonies or the transcendent glories of this spectacuar work. Like the Berg, it’s vast in scope and profound in human understanding, and despite a rather blah, nap-inducing start, the Ariel seemed to come alive in the hymn-like third movement, turning in a riveting and absolutely committed reading, led by violinist Alexandra Kazovsky.  


Posted on Monday, October 26, 2015 at 04:39PM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | CommentsPost a Comment

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