Amernet Quartet serves up Beethoven restrung at FIU Festival

By Lawrence Budmen

The Amernet Quartet performed music of Beethoven at the FIU Music Festival Thursday night.

As the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven looms in 2020, artists and ensembles across the globe are already celebrating. 

On Thursday night the Amernet Quartet presented an all- Beethoven concert with a twist at the FIU Music Festival. Two of the three scores on the program were transcriptions for strings of compositions Beethoven wrote for solo instruments. The results were decidedly mixed.

The String Quartet in A Major, Op. 18, no.5, which opened the concert at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center, was the only authentic Beethoven offering of the evening. It proved a fine demonstration of the revamped Amernet. Avi Nagin is the FIU resident ensemble’s new second violinist and the difference is palpable. Nagin adds weight to the quartet’s sonority and there is greater polish and smoothness in the group’s corporate sound. 

First violin Misha Vitenson exhibited fresh lightness of bow and touch from the onset of the first movement. The deliberately paced Menuetto emerged more dance-like in spirit than usual. In the fugal section of the Andante cantabile, the playing of violist Michael Klotz and cellist Jason Calloway was particularly solid and precise with the individual lines transparent. Even in this early Beethoven work, the minor key variation on the movement’s principal theme sounded remarkably daring and modern. The group’s silky tonal blend conveyed the undercurrents of pathos in the final Allegro.

There is a long tradition of transcribing scores from one instrumental medium to another. Bach, Vivaldi and Beethoven himself made arrangements of their compositions for different forces. Franz Liszt turned many composers’ music into pianistic showpieces. Inevitably the test of any transcription is how well it works in the new setting. 

Composer Jeffrey Briggs has arranged (or, in his words “reimagined”) all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas for string quartet, and the Amernet has become his ensemble of choice to perform these works. 

Briggs’ version of the Piano Sonata No. 15 in D Major (“Pastorale”) is imaginatively conceived but, at times, misses the essence of Beethoven’s work. The streamlined Andante is recast for strings at the expense of Beethoven’s depth of expression. As themes are tossed between instruments in the opening Allegretto and viola and cello offer rhythmic underpinning, the music sounds pretty far from Beethoven’s original. The third and forth movements worked better. Briggs nicely capturers the contours of unexpected melodic routes in the Scherzo and the plucked cello lines below the other instruments’ statement of melodic material in the finale is inventive. The Amernet’s excellent performance amplified the high and low points of Briggs’ conception.

The concert concluded with a transcription for string quintet of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major (“Kreutzer”) by that most famous of arrangers – Anonymous. 

With the weaving of instrumental timbres, the Presto of the first movement sounded straightlaced and lacking in the sinew of Beethoven’s original. The Andante con variazioni was better suited to the string textures; a prolonged violin solo reverted to something close to how Beethoven conceived the music, and at such moments the difference was real. Vitenson’s combination of deftness and bravura demonstrated the indelible genius of the “Kreutzer.” With powerhouse cellist Julian Schwarz as the ensemble’s guest, the blending of instrumental voices was finely achieved, particularly in a high-voltage reading of the finale.

While these realizations of Beethoven’s sonatas as string ensemble pieces were not always successful, they were never less than interesting and proof of the universality of the master from Bonn after more than two centuries.

The FIU Music Festival and Friends of Chamber Music present pianist Vadym Kholodenko playing Mozart’s Fantasia in C minor, Beethoven’s 7 Bagatelles and Rondo a capriccio and Leopold Godowsky’s Complete Studies on Chopin Etudes   8 p.m. Friday at FIU Wertheim Performing Arts Center.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment

Fri Nov 8, 2019
at 11:13 am
No Comments