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Heavenly Sounds from the Amernet Quartet

Music Review
Sun Oct 14th, 2018

Misha Viteson, Franz Felkl, Michael Klotz, Jason Calloway

Braving the first chilly air of October, a robustly enthusiastic audience of music lovers assembled for an early evening concert by the Amernet String Quartet, joined for this event by renowned flautist, Eugenia Zukerman. This concert at St. James Place in Great Barrington was the third in this season’s Leaf Peepers Concert series, for which Zukerman serves as Director. John Bevan, President of Clarion Concerts, introduced the performers. In a gracious welcome to the audience, Zukerman promised a concert of “amazing sounds,” a promise that was fulfilled to the highest standard by the variety of selections, each demanding the performers to exercise their individual talents.

Leading off the program was Friedrich Kuhlau’s “Adagio ma non troppo” from Quintet for Flute and Strings, Opus 51, No. 1 in D Major, composed in 1823. A contemporary of Beethoven, Kuhlau collaborated often with Beethoven at Copenhagen court. This unusual piece was written for two violas (Beethoven’s instrument was the viola), one violin, one cello, and one flute. The flute stands at the center of this melodic piece. The natural elegance and purely unaffected tone of Eugenia Zukerman’s interpretation transported the listener back to a time of music salons and the intimacy that such settings created. In this selection from the piece, Misha Viteson’s eloquent violin was excited to converse with the svelte flute; the flute was polite, questioning, then checked the first viola’s interest which was nil, then conversed with Jason Calloway’s resonant Belgian bridge cello: he appeared forthright, mellow, upright, modest, and dignified. Since the following movement was not played, the outcome of courtship was opaque because it was clear that the resourceful violin was not about to give up: Viteson’s high-octane violin would have to challenge Calloway’s assured cello as they awaited the flute’s sensible decision.

Alberto Ginastera’s 1934 Impresiones de la Puna for flute and string quartet, captures “echoes of the gauchos,” as described by Zukerman in her introduction. Sprightly and lovely, exuberant and gentle, all at once, it made for a remarkable listening experience as the varied landscape of hills and plains were conjured by Zukerman, especially in the lively, concluding dance movement.

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Pathetique, arranged for string quartet by Jeffrey Briggs (Beethoven wrote sixteen string quartets, yet he wrote 32 piano sonatas, which Briggs has re-worked for performance as string quartets), presented a straightforward, un-embellished arrangement-translation of a solo piano composition, divided into the four parts for a string quartet. While it was beautifully and tunefully presented by the Amernet, it seemed to be a novelty piece. The cello presented the lower left-hand register, the first violin the right hand upper register, the second violin the middle of the keyboard (which was more important in the fourth movement where Franz Felkl excelled), yet after the first movement, the viola merely noodled with ambiance. The Pathetique Sonata is a solo virtuoso work: breaking it down into four instruments diminishes the concentrated passion that a fine pianist can bring to the work.

After intermission, the Amernet (the t is not pronounced, as in French) treated the audience to Beethoven’s String Quartet No 15 in A Minor, Op. 132 “Heiliger Dankgesang (Holy Thanksgiving), composed in 1825, late in Beethoven’s career. This piece was well-suited as a showpiece for the Amernet, as each instrument had a chance to shine, each contributing defined roles to the genius of the whole. There is remarkable balance in this piece with each instrument constantly contributing to overall effect. The harmonies were tight and flowing with Michael Klotz’s smooth viola becoming so central an anchor. The sensational middle third movement of the five movements demands complete unity from the instruments to garner the effect desired: religious gravity moving toward joy, and then an Otherworldly spirituality that elevates into sublime transcendence, which the Quartet delivered with memorable effect. When a concert concludes with the playing of a masterpiece like this, any admission fee appears trivial.

The near-capacity audience leapt to its feet in appreciation for the remarkable evening and demanded two bows.

The final Leaf Peeper concert of the 2018 series will feature acclaimed male vocal quartet, New York Polyphony, singing a program of 16th-century choral music. The concert will be held October 27, at Hudson Hall in Hudson, New York, at 7 pm.