AMERNET STRING QUARTET AND FRIENDS
SHMUEL ASHKENASI/ ROBERTO DIAZ/ MARC JOHNSON/
ZVI ZEITLIN (2-9-07)

By Lawrence Budmen

To open a weekend of masterclasses for students from around the nation, the wonderful Amernet String Quartet (resident ensemble at the FIU School of Music) joined forces with some of the legends of the chamber music world to present a gala concert on February 9 at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center Concert Hall. At this one of a kind event, the musical offerings were choice; the music making truly special.

Schubertís charming String Trio in D opened the evening in a performance that combined grace and serenity in perfect measure. The soaring tone of violinist Shmuel Ashkenasi (of the legendary Vermeer Quartet Ė soon to give its farewell performance) brought the performance to heavenly heights. Cellist Marc Johnson (Ashkenasiís fellow Vermeer player) and violist Roberto Diaz (President of the Curtis Institute of Music and former principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra) were his able colleagues.

Alexander Glazunovís rarely played Cello Quintet, Op.39 was a wonderful confection. For three movements the score sounds like Russian Richard Strauss, intensely romantic, rich in layered string textures. The final movement is a pure showpiece in the best nationalist style with instrumental pyrotechnics galore. An Andante sostenuto rises to ecstatic passion while the lightly plucked Scherzo beguiles the ear. 

Johnson joined the Amernet Quartet for a superlative reading of a score that deserves more frequent performances. Violinist Misha Vitenson was nothing short of brilliant, seconded with subtly nuanced playing by Marcia Littley. Cellist Javier Ariasís deeply expressive, tonally rich sonority commanded attention. Violist Michael Klotzís vibrant sound and sterling musicality were a joy to hear. The Russian fireworks of the Finale captured the players at white heat.

Schubertís lively, dance like Rondo for Violin and Strings is always an entrancing bon-bon. To hear it played by Zvi Zeitlin was pure joy. After six decades on the concert stages of the world, the octogenarian Zeitlinís tone and technique remain warmly burnished. His schmaltzy, Vienesse slides and infectious ťlan recalled the great Fritz Kreisler. Here was terrific string playing by a real master. The Amernet players matched Zeitlin in sparkle and verve.

Mendelssohnís Viola Quintet in B-flat Major, Op.87 concluded the program on a patrician note. This neglected masterpiece is a gem. Mendelssohnís typical impetuosity and lyricism engulf the opening Allegro vivace. The endless melodic inspiration of the Andante scherzando is succeeded by a gorgeous Adagio e lento. Like Mozart, Mendelssohn was one of the greatest youthful geniuses of all time. The invigorating Allegro molto vivace finale recalls the final movement of Mendelssohnís Octet in its rapid fire string figurations and headlong thrust. 

The first violin part is almost a solo role. Ashkenasi was simply magnificent. His heavenly tone and peerless musicianship carried a performance of incandescent beauty. Littley, Klotz, Diaz, and Arias matched him for outstanding musicianship and virtuosic swagger. Mendelssohnís glorious score was the perfect icing on the cake to an evening of great music making.




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