Amernet Quartet opens Mainly Mozart Festival with rich Tchaikovsky and Hungarian rarity
At the opening concert of the Mainly Mozart Festival in Coral Gables on Sunday, the most interesting work was not by Mozart.
It was by the Hungarian composer Ernő Dohnányi, a man whose long life took him from the rich musical world of late 19th century Budapest to a grave in Tallahassee, where he died in 1960 after several years as a music professor at Florida State University.
Although Dohnányi’s reputation has faded somewhat since the years when he was considered among Europe’s most promising composers, his works are still played, and on Sunday the Amernet String Quartet gave an intense, committed performance of his String Quartet No. 2.
In harmony and texture, the work sounds something like Brahms or Strauss, with a yearning, late Romantic tone that was all its own. The most important role by far went to first violinist Misha Vitenson, whose intense vibrato, heavy bow pressure and freewheeling, emotional style of playing well suited the first movement’s restless, ecstatic flights of melody.
The work was not all intense lyricism, and in the Presto, a highlight was the crisp, bouncing bow figures of the cellist Jason Calloway. And for all the throbbing melodies of the first movement, the musicians could play with chaste restraint in the second movement’s chorale-like tones.
The festival opened its 20th anniversary season at the Coral Gables Museum with a welcome from James Judd, former music director of the Florida Philharmonic and current artistic director of the Miami Music Project, the program to bring musical instruction to children, which is co-presenting the festival with the museum. The festival consists of eight concerts, including two for children, running through June 16.
Less successful than the Dohnányi was a performance of Mozart’s String Quartet in F Major, K. 168, which opened the concert. The Amernet quartet, ensemble-in-residence at Florida International University, took a robust, assertive approach, miles from the over-polite Mozart playing engaged in by some performers. But this was just too hard driving, especially in the Menuetto, where the melodies were played in an aggressive style, making the movement sound more like a military march than an elegant dance.
The concluding fugue movement, however, was played in a crisp, rigorous manner, with entrances clear, and despite the complexity of the counterpoint, an overarching sense of where the music was going.
After intermission, the Amernet ensemble’s rich tone was deepened by the addition of cellist Aaron Merritt and violist Yael Kleinman Hyken for Tchaikovsky’s String Sextet in D Minor, known as the Souvenir de Florence.
From the dissonant opening chord, the performance was full of vigor and brio, although some of the more mysterious, inward passages felt paved over by the sheer momentum of the performance.
The Andante cantabile was notable for sensitively phrased solos by cellist Calloway and violist Michael Klotz, and for the great dignity the ensemble brought to the climactic passage toward the end. The concluding movements were rustic and characteristically Russian, with the work brought to an energetic conclusion.
This is the festival’s second year at the Coral Gables Museum. The venue within the museum has been moved from the museum’s beautiful main exhibit hall–where an exhibit precluded the concert— to the smaller community meeting room, where the acoustics were not as clear. Still the space remains a big improvement over the old location in an acoustically dry meeting room at the Colonnade Hotel.
The Mainly Mozart Festival continues through June 16. mainlymozart.com; 786-422-5221.
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Sun May 12, 2013
at 10:49 pm