String Quartet in B flat, Op.18/6
String Quartet No.5
String Quartet in C minor, Op.51/1
Aviv String Quartet
[Sergey Ostrovsky & Evgenia Ephstein (violins); Shuli Waterman (viola) & Rachel Mercer (cello)]
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 31 May, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The juxtaposition of early Beethoven, astringent Bartók and Brahms at his most glowing worked remarkably well as a piece of programming although occasionally the playing could have done with a little more polish. No matter, there were some good things here from the youthful Aviv Quartet whose mentors include the Berg and Ysaÿe quartets.
Least satisfactory was the Beethoven, which could have done with greater poise and focus – too often, high octane enthusiasm substituted for a real sense of style, the tempo in the outer movements too headlong to allow for articulation. The players also failed to make much of the strange passage marked ‘La Malincolia’ which ushers in the last movement, letting it drag rather than building up a sense of suspense before the release into the finale proper, its theme oddly prescient of the ‘Tempest’ sonata. However, the headlong scherzo with its dislocated accents was despatched with gleeful aplomb.
Undoubtedly though the performance of the evening was the Bartók, its pounding unison opening eliciting an appropriately visceral attack. The Aviv’s actual sound, notably grainy with a particularly strong second violin, suited this music particularly well. As with the Beethoven, a slightly less headlong tempo for the first movement might have added to music’s impact. However, this was the real thing, a performance with the ring of total conviction. The spectral night music of the succeeding Adagio molto – taken at a real adagio – was wonderfully concentrated whilst the central scherzo, the apex of another of Bartók’s arch-like structures and one of his pieces in Bulgarian rhythm, lurched forward unpredictably. This difficult work was given a wholly convincing reading.
The Brahms was treated to a warm, big-hearted performance, at its very best in the ‘Romanze’ where the fine tonal blend and give and take between the three lady players was particularly noticeable. Elsewhere, the tempos adopted by the leader sometimes gave rise to problems: given a more relaxed initial Allegro, less would have been more, whereas driven along as here the music tended to over-heat, with diminishing returns; conversely, the Allegretto third movement, lovingly played though it was, tended to lose impetus at a rather sleepy speed and offered insufficient contrast to the ‘Romanze’.
As an encore was the Andante of Brahms’s Op.67 String Quartet, its eloquent song suited the leader’s soloistic tendencies. Aviv is the Hebrew word for spring or fountain and shouldn’t be confused with the Tel Aviv quartet.