By Lawrence Budmen

A feast of chamber music opened the 2006 FIU String Seminar (which brought students from prestigious music schools to Miami for a weekend of masterclasses and concerts) when the Amernet String Quartet, resident ensemble at Florida International University School of Music, invited their teachers and mentors to join them for a evening of rousing music making on Friday at the Wertheim Concert Hall. Perfection was not what this concert was about. The sheer joy of several generations of musicians working together produced performances that pulsated with spontaneity and vibrant musical life. 

Bach’s Double Concerto was a stylish opening vehicle for violinists Zvi Zeitlin and Sergiu Schwartz. There was strong contrast between Schwartz’s nimble dexterity and aristocratic string tone and Zeitlin’s leaner, more incisive style. (Still spry at age eighty-four, Zeitlin has performed Schoenberg’s technically daunting, musically complex Violin Concerto a record 64 times.) The highlight of Zeitlin and Schwartz’s Bach performance was the exquisite Largo – played with soaring nobility and elasticity of musical line (supported by the Amernet foursome and double bassist Luis Gomez-Imbert). 

Tchaikovsky’s Sextet Souvenir de Florence received an impassioned performance from the Amernet players, violist Toby Appel, and cellist Yehuda Hanani. This concert marked the return to South Florida of Hanani who presented his Close Encounters with Music series here for many seasons. With strong, fiery leadership from Misha Vitenson, the opening Allegro con spirito was exactly that – taut and fast paced. Tchaikovsky’s brooding Adagio cantabile received plush tonal sheen, particularly in the violin-viola exchanges between Vitenson and Michael Klotz. The players’ vigorous treatment of the Allegro finale swept all before it. 

The evening’s final offering was the real charmer. With violinist Shmuel Ashkenazi (of the Vermeer Quartet) joining Zeitlin, Appel, Hanani, and the Amernet musicians, Mendelssohn’s Octet really took wing. The wonderful collegial spirit among these artists produced an inspired performance. Ashkenazi’s velvety, exquisite playing wove the music’s beguiling romantic spell. The high strung urgency of the opening movement was followed by an expressive Andante. Hanani’s deeply burnished, rotund tone and intense musicality sang forth to impressive effect. The famous Scherzo had feathery lightness galore. A fleet, joyous reading of the final Presto concluded an enchanting reading of this lyrically inspired, remarkable creation of the teen aged Felix Mendelssohn. 

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