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Ariel Quartet challenges audience

The Ariel Quartet is a smart, talented, relatively young (all of them just a shade over 30) classical music ensemble that has garnered a healthy number of competition prizes and concert reviews over the years.

As winner of the ninth annual “Cleveland Quartet Award,” the quartet was afforded the opportunity of performing in some highly regarded concert programs this season, including Tuesday night’s offering by the Buffalo Chamber Music Society.

The set list mixed centuries and artistic viewpoints in a kind of cultural sandwich.

The 18th century was represented by Franz Joseph Haydn’s B-flat major quartet (op. 76, no. 4), and the 19th century entry was Franz Schubert’s last quartet. Alban Berg’s lone work in the category held the 20th century slot and was programmed between the scores of the two elder statesmen.

This “sandwich” strategy is not a new one. Other groups have used the bracketing tactic of introducing their audiences to more challenging material and it’s a savvy way of getting folks to broaden their musical diet by promising a well-loved dessert at the end of the “meal.”

The Ariel Quartet captured the Cleveland Quartet Award.

The Ariel Quartet captured the Cleveland Quartet Award.

Haydn’s work acquired the “Sunrise” nickname (not appended by the composer) because of the way the first movement opens with the melody floating serenely from the first violin and supported by the other instruments. It doesn’t take long for the pulse to rise. The contrasting second movement Adagio, one of the loveliest musical moments in Haydn’s chamber music catalog, was played by the Ariel Quartet with a great deal of panache and augured well for more sprightly third and fourth movements.

In a preconcert conversation with WNED-FM host Peter Hall, violinist Alexandra Kazovsky and violist Jan Gruning tried to make a case for the Berg quartet, talking about the beauty they found in it to an interviewer who remained unconvinced.

This reaction was right in line with that of the critic, who saw the work’s premiere in 1911 and damned it by saying, “The idiom was mishandled by Mr. Alban Berg.” A little more than a decade later (and following a few revisions on the advice of Anton von Webern), this same piece was an audience favorite following a 1923 concert performance at the International Festival for Chamber Music in Salzburg, Austria.

Tuesday night’s audience seemed split, although the performers received a healthy batch of applause for their efforts, in some cases because the music’s qualities were in line with the performer’s viewpoint and in others because the piece was over. Personally, I thought it was a hit.

After the intermission, the players returned to the stage for their take on Schubert’s lengthy opus, one that topped off the “sandwich” with a thoughtful performance, making the concert/meal a success.

CONCERT REVIEW

What: Ariel Quartet, part of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society series

When: Tuesday evening

Where: Mary Seaton Room, Kleinhans Music Hall

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