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Almost a Review of the Aviv Quartet

Ionarts ran out of ears on Thursday, February 10th (mine were at the Kennedy Center for "America in the 40s"), and we did not get to cover the Aviv Quartet's concert of Shostakovich (Quartet No. 4), MacMillan, Beethoven ("Serioso"), etc., at the Library of Congress. In an odd way to make up for that lapse, I am putting up a review of that promising group's recital from the week before at the Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore.

As part of the Peggy and Yale Gordon Concerts at that Temple, the Aviv Quartet performed Beethoven's op. 18, No. 6, Prokoviev's second string quartet, Sir Ernest MacMillan's Two Sketches for String Quartet and, with the charming addition of pianist Einav Yarden, a student of Leon Fleisher's, the Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor, op. 34.

The delectable Beethoven quartet is one of the more charming string quartets he has composed and well suited the audience of grateful, casual Sunday concert goers, mostly advanced in age. The execution of the work with the catchy cello line in the opening Allegro con brio was performed well enough for the occasion. There was plenty of verve and lighthearted music-making to enchant, even if the occasional phrase was muddled, less than synchronized among the members, and individual notes took some liberties.

The beautiful MacMillan work got a sensitive and delicate reading that asked for more of this seldom heard but wonderful English composer. In the Prokofiev, Sergey Ostrovsky (first violin) and Evgenia Epshtein (second violin) were able to draw on their native Russian idiomatic advantage, but Haifa native Shuli Waterman (viola) and the Canadian Rachel Mercer (cello) went right along with them and delivered a jaunty, energetic, sometimes tender interpretation well worth having sought out.

Brahms, who claimed the second half, gave the audience more of what they wanted. (Prokofiev had cleared out a few of the less hardy listeners.) The acoustic of the Temple did not enhance the work when the textures were buried and the piano could not find room between the string instruments' wall of sound in front of it. But for all the mellowness (including tempi), there were moments of true beauty: an element that is, admittedly, difficult to remove from Brahms.

The Brahms in particular was under-rehearsed and the Quartet never gave more than it needed to for such a casual affair, and the violins often did not agree with each other on intonation, but then they had just recently gotten off their respective planes. The Quartet, that has won a contract with Naxos by virtue of their playing, was said to have given a superb performance on that Thursday in the Library of Congress that made people run out to get Shostakovich string quartets on CD.

You can read the review (Aviv Quartet, Hitting Rare Notes, February 12) by Cecelia Porter for the Washington Post, in which she asks the question, "why were two trifles of Ernest MacMillan included in this demanding program?"

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