By Lawrence Budmen 

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was the ultimate instrumental colorist. His music combined dazzling bursts of musical light with Gallic elegance and the rigorous formalism of a classicist. His "String Quartet in F Major" (composed in 1902-03) is one of the true gems of the chamber music literature. The Impressionistic tints, perfumed beauty, and Oriental exoticism of this work take its musical content to another realm. The felicitous scoring and startling bursts of instrumental color are the essence of French art. This intimate masterpiece of the 27 year old Ravel was never surpassed by its composer for sheer magical artistic invention. The Amernet String Quartet gave a suave, wonderfully idiomatic performance of this score on October 27 at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center Concert Hall. The concert marked the Amernet foursome's debut as Artists-in-Residence at Florida International University and the opening of the FIU Music Festival 2004. 

The Amernet Quartet (Misha Vitenson and Marcia Littley de Arias, violins; Michael Klotz, viola; and Javier Arias, cello) made an impressive South Florida debut last fall at Festival Miami 2003. For warmth of instrumental sound and balance, supple phrasing, and strongly felt intensity of musical line, this group rivals the best European chamber music ensembles. The richly burnished tonal sonority of Vitenson's and Klotz's newly acquired Amati instruments gives the Amernet a velvet cushion of sound that is distinctive. This is a group whose first goal is to serve the composer. In a diverse program, the Amernet foursome gave highly committed, thoughtfully conceived performances that traversed varied musical idioms and fashions.

The singing tone and emotional depth that the quartet brought to the opening Allegro moderato-Tres doux movement of the Ravel quartet were the hallmarks of a sterling performance! The blinding flashes of instrumental color in the Assez vif-Tres rhyhtme were brilliantly evoked. The soaring tone of Vitenson and Klotz's playing perfectly captured the Asian exotica of the music. Gently plucked strings conjured up a magical aura! The shimmering, hazy mist of Tres lent was almost mystical. Time seemed to stand still as the Amernet foursome poured forth an arc of mysterious, ethereal sound. The agitated, heated intensity of the concluding Vit Et agite capped a deeply probing, idiomatic performance that captured Ravel's myriad fountain of instrumental timbres. The score's musical photoplay of light and shade was richly served. A marvelous reinvention of a great work! 

The "Oracion Del Torero" by Joaquin Turina (1882-1949) received a stunning, gleaming rendition. The heady Spanish aura, solemn evocation, and shimmering kaleidoscope of Latin Impressionism were marvelously vivid. Playing with rapt concentration and musical dedication, the Amernet turned a musical vignette into a minor masterpiece! Magical!

The Amernet players were equally at home in the finely chiseled classicism of Mozart. Some of that composer's most deeply felt works are in minor keys. Lurking beneath the finely polished surface of Mozart's "String Quartet in D Minor," K.421 is strongly tinged melancholy and passion. From the first bars of the Allegro (which commences this remarkable work), the sheer beauty and richness of the Amernet's sound was glorious! Here and in the hushed romanticism of the Andante, the players vividly evoked the music's dual personality. The vigorous, beautifully detailed Allegretto was played with patrician elegance. The trio had distinctive style and character. A fiery, tempestuous reading of the Allegro non troppo had just the right contrasting hues of aristocratic grace. A splendid performance of one of Mozart's seminal works!

The Amernet Quartet essayed "Catalan Concertante" by former FIU School of Music Director (and now Composer-in-Residence) Frederick Kaufman and set a new standard in this fanciful score! Elements of flamenco, indigenous folk music, and contemporary harmonic complexity run through Kaufman's work. The Amernet foursome evoked the vibrance of Spanish guitars, the throbbing energy of urban street life, and the subtlety and poetry of a great fresco. Their perfectly gauged, often eloquent performance was superior to the Miami String Quartet's overly brilliant concert and recorded performances of this score. An illuminating recreation of one of Kaufman's favorite works!

The future performances of the Amernet String Quartet are highly anticipated. (The group will perform on November 10 with cellist Andres Diaz in string quintets by Boccherini and Schubert at the FIU Festival.) This ensemble's spacious tonal blend, musical intuitiveness, and finely etched performances are the mark of a rare group indeed! Their cultivated musicality brings distinction to a wide variety of scores and idioms. The Amernet are the newest shining jewel in South Florida's cultural crown! 

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