Amernet Quartet serves Czech composers admirably at Gusman

By Lawrence Budmen

The Amernet String Quartet, joined by violist MIchael Tree, performed woks of Mozart, Janacek and Dvorak Sunday afternoon at Gusman Concert Hall.

The Amernet String Quartet, joined by violist Michael Tree, performed music of Mozart, Janacek and Dvorak Sunday afternoon at Gusman Concert Hall.

Michael Tree, longtime violist of the Guarneri Quartet, returned to South Florida in a concert with the Amernet String Quartet for the Sunday Afternoons of Music series at Gusman Concert Hall. The matinee featured quintets by Mozart and Dvorak and the Amernet alone in a seminal quartet by Leos Janacek.

While Tree played second viola in the two chamber scores, his distinctive sound shone in the opening solo of Dvorak’s String Quintet in E-flat Major. One of the last works from the Czech master’s 1890s American sojurn, the quintet is replete with nostalgia for Dvorak’s homeland as well as hints of the Indian and African American themes that he believed would form the basis of an authentic American national music. The players took the opening Allegro non tanto at a rapid clip, the principal theme strongly reminiscent of Dvorak’s “American” String Quartet.At the movement’s conclusion, the melody was played in contrasting slow tempo, the soft ending subtly shaded. An incisive rendition of the Allegro vivo sparkled with the unbridled energy of a Czech dance. In the contrasting central episode, Michael Klotz’s lean and nuanced viola playing conveyed the music’s sentimental aura.

Dvorak’s slow movements offer some of his finest writing. The solemn melodic line of the Larghetto was reinforced by the duo violas’ deep well of tone. In the brief fast section, the players’ hairtrigger intensity was even more dramatic. Eschewing speed, the players brought grace and wit to the charming finale with Jason Calloway’s nimble cello adding a sparkling bass line.

The concert opened with Mozart’s String Quintet No. 1 in B-flat Major. This score is early Mozart, melodious with surprising twists and curves; the stormy development section of the first movement in a minor key one of many unexpected surprises. Klotz’s dark sonority commanded numerous solo passages amidst a high-energy reading. Violinists Misha Vitenson and Marcia Littley shaped the principal melody of the Adagio elegantly over the chordal lines of the lower strings. A brightly energetic finale fizzed with comic opera brio.

While Tree’s patrician artistry enhanced the quintets, the Amernet’s splendid performance of Janacek’s String Quartet No. 2 (“Intimate Letters”) formed the concert’s centerpiece and high point. Composed in the space of two weeks in 1928, the final year of the composer’s life, the score stems from Janacek’s obsessive love for a woman forty years his junior. His correspondence totaled no less than seven hundred letters with his unrequited love interest.

Like Shostakovich, Janacek was a distinctive musical voice, his rhythms based on the patterns of Czech speech. From the strongly emphatic opening attack, the Amernet offeed a searing reading, the agony behind the notes strongly projected. The eerie sounds of cello and viola playing near the instruments’ bridge added edgy tension to this passionate music.

The Adagio of the second movement commenced with a softly spun, ruminative melody, only to be swept away in figurations that recall Jaancek’s famous Sinfonietta. The players did not attempt to soften or sugarcoat Janacek’s abrasive dissonances, the sonority appropriately harsh and raw. Pounding rhythmic dance figures contrasted with the lyricism of a romantic melody played by two violins and viola in the finale. In a performance replete with power and emotion, Janacek’s unique masterwork emerged both haunting and disturbing.

Sunday Afternoons of Music continues 4 p.m. January 26 with the New Trio playing works by Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky. 305-271-7150;

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Mon Jan 13, 2014
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