A reconstituted Amernet Quartet opens its season with memorable Debussy

By Alan Becker

The Amernet Quartet (Misha Vitenson, Marcia Littley, Jason Callaway and Michael Klotz)

The Amernet Quartet has been the resident ensemble at Florida International University since 2004. Tuesday evening’s concert at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center marked the start of their 2010-2011 season, and also served to introduce a change in the roster. Jason Calloway has replaced Amernet founding member Javier Arias, and the new cellist’s refined playing blended well with the other members of the ensemble.

Debussy’s String Quartet has long established itself as one of the French master’s best-known creations.  It’s a relatively early work, composed when Debussy was 31, and represents the composer reaching towards the harmonies and structural devices that were soon to become his stock-in-trade.

The Amernet members seized the music by the throat, and wrung out all the passion and creative sublimity the composer poured into his music.  First violinist Misha Vitenson was able to bring some exquisite phrasing to the central lyrical episode of the Anime first movement, and violist Michael Klotz brought his rich burnished tone to the fore, as each embraced the music with a fervor rarely experienced in this work.

Following the Gamelan-inspired Scherzo, with its plucked notes and irregular accents, the Andantino was rendered with heavenly beauty and immense concentration. The closing movement returned to early motifs and concluded a performance of uncommon distinction.  It has been said that Debussy briefly contemplated writing a second quartet.  Why he abandoned this idea is one of music’s sad mysteries.

Haydn’s Quartet in F, Op. 77, No. 2 was his last completed work in that form.  It is a gracious, smiling composition with some innovative part writing, particularly in the Finale.  The Amernet members leavened the charm with a robust vigor and caught all of the forward-looking inventiveness the composer built into his music. The group effectively demonstrated the give and take that is at the heart of the best chamber music performance, as with the two-part writing that opens the Andante before the rest of the Quartet enters. Along with the first violin, the passage provided an excellent opportunity for cellist Calloway to demonstrate his fine sound.

Dvorak’s Quartet in A flat Op. 105 belongs to his mature period.  The working out of ideas, particularly in the Finale is a little more extended than usual.  What’s not unusual is the use of Bohemian rhythmic elements that give the piece a genuine Czech character.  Once again the Amernet found just the right way to project the character of the music.  Homespun merged with heartfelt as each player performed with considerable expression, yet never pushed the music beyond its effortless charm. The standing ovation was well deserved.

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Wed Oct 20, 2010
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