With works spanning slightly more than five years between their composition dates, the Ariel Quartet and pianist Alon Goldstein highlighted the music during the turbulent times of World War I in their concert for the Music Alliance between The Friends of Chamber Music and the UMKC Conservatory.
Music written in a time of war is often reactionary or escapist. The World War I works featured by the 2014 Cleveland Quartet Award-winning ensemble Ariel Quartet and pianist Alon Goldstein for the Music Alliance of The Friends of Chamber Music and the UMKC Conservatory on Friday night fell into both categories. At a time when the world and its people and thus, its art, was in crisis, moments of respite were tenuous but sought after ports of refuge.
Erwin Schulhoff’s Divertimento for String Quartet, Op.14 was one such piece of respite. Cast in five contrasting movement, the work is light salon-type music without the schmaltz. It was a bit like warmed-over Dvořák though and the Ariel played it as such. There was little to challenge the group. They collectively struggled to find a pitch center and their upper dynamics were decidedly underwhelming. The young ensemble is quite physical while performing, and I hope that as they develop they will translate their motions into musical expression because, though they showed a range emotions, the resulting sound was monotonous.
Igor Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet fared much better and fit the strife of the era. The “Dance” was suitably aggressive though the viola could have projected more. “Eccentric” lived up to its moniker with percussive burps and mercurial moods. The stunning concluding movement was the best performed of the quartet repertoire of the evening. The evocative piece with hints of the “Dies irae” and slow moving dissonance chords was haunting. The ensemble’s concentration was in full effect as unfortunately off-stage noise bled into the hall nearly derailing the proceedings.
With Alon Goldstein on piano for Edward Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84, the combined forces presented this seldom-heard reflection on WWI. It’s a gorgeous work with wonderful writing for each instrument; the strings dominate but the piano provides depth and power at critical junctures. The cello writing is particularly effective and as this work was written at the same time as his Cello Concerto, it’s easy to find the connections. But it’s the central second movement that holds this work together. Akin to the famous unabashedly romantic “Nimrod” variation of the Enigma Variations, the Adagio is equally lush and heart-wrenchingly beautiful. The Ariel Quartet and Goldstein were splendid in their performance of this movement which upon its conclusion caused me to exhale a long breath. Goldstein was rock solid throughout the work’s three movements. His technique at the piano is very even and unadorned by other physicalities which stood in stark contrast to those of the quartet.
The Ariel Quartet has the chops but could use some additional refinement and more challenging repertoire. Having heard Goldstein as solo recitalist, featured soloist on a concerto, and now as a chamber music collaborator, he is worthy of much more acclaim as he excels at each.
Music Alliance: The Friends of Chamber Music and UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance
Ariel Quartet with Alon Goldstein
Friday, January 30, 2015
300 W. 12th St., Kansas City, MO
For more information, visit http://www.chambermusic.org