American String Quartet, with Menahem Pressler, pianist
Event date: January 24, 2010 at 8 PM
Place: Sunset Center, Carmel, California
I attended the concert by the American String Quartet last night. Overall, this event was a disappointment.
The two opening works on the program, Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 18, number 2, and the Prokofiev’s Quartet No. 2 in F Major, Op. 92 did not create any sense of excitement or particular enjoyment. The Beethoven is such a well-known standard in the repertoire that it is really perplexing why the performance seemed so weak. The only reason I could create in my mind is that the quartet members must be busy with their own individual performance and livelihood aspects that there was simply inadequate time for preparation. As for the Prokofiev, it is very rarely performed, and I had hoped to learn the compositional and musical aspects of this work at the concert. Beyond the fact that many of the themes clearly originate from folk tunes, the performers really did not succeed in creating interest in this work. Dynamics were often left to Mezzo-Forte, and little was done to create a feeling of fine chamber music ensemble playing.
The group’s playing in the Dvořák Quintet for Piano and Strings displayed many wonderful compositional aspects of the score. It was amazing, however, that Pressler’s role in the ensemble sometimes seemed more like that of a coach! He was the only one of the performers who constantly worked at having eye-contact with the other players! Yet members of the American String Quartet were totally immersed in their own scores, opposed to looking to see what others were about to do. Mr. Pressler’s excellent playing, particularly in the Dumka movement demonstrated the subtleties of expressive dynamics of which he is capable. This contributed greatly to the enjoyment of this movement.
Perhaps the greatest joy for me was to listen and marvel at the sound of the viola owned by violist Daniel Avshalomov. I have an on-going frustration with wanting to hear better quality sound from some viola players. Last night was my chance, since the violist of the ASQ plays an instrument made by Andrea Amati, who crafted this instrument in Cremona, Italy in 1568. That sound stood out like a jewel at last night’s concert.