Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Arcadia String Quartet at the Israel Conservatory of Music

The Arcadia Quartet was formed when its founding members were all students in the chamber music class of Professor Nicusor Silaghi at the Gh. Dima Music Academy of Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Today, the members are violinists Ana Török and Răsvan Dumitru, violist Traian Boală (who joined the quartet in 2009) and ‘cellist Zsolt Török. From 2012 to 2011, the members of the Arcadia Quartet were post-graduate students at the Vienna University of Music and the Performing Arts. The recipient of several prizes, the quartet today runs a busy international performing schedule. 

The Arcadia Quartet’s first Israeli concert tour began with a concert at the Israel Conservatory of Music on June 26th 2013. The Israel Conservatory’s chamber music series is administered by Dr. Raz Binyamini. Words of greeting were offered by the Romanian Ambassador to Israel Mr. Edward Iosiper. Mr. Iosiper expressed his pleasure at offering an evening of music in recognition of 65 years of uninterrupted political-, economic- and cultural diplomatic relations between Romania and Israel; he thanked the Romanian Cultural Institute in Tel Aviv for making the concert possible.

The Arcadia Quartet opened with Joseph Haydn’s (1732-1809) String Quartet in F minor opus 20 no.5, one of the six revolutionary and experimental opus 20 “Sun” Quartets. This piece holds an important place as one of the first of the composer’s more dramatic works, using the darker musical imagery of Haydn’s “Sturm und Drang” manner. The artists gave a sensitive and lyrical reading of the opening Allegro moderato movement, placing emphasis on the expressiveness of each gesture. Their playing of the Minuet was tinged with nostalgia, relieved by the major Trio, touching in its small hesitations, the return of the Minuet reintroducing the darker shadows of the minor key. The third movement – Adagio – was all delight in its pastoral mood, with violinist Török weaving filigree ornamental melodic strands through and around the lilting Siciliano dance rhythm. With Haydn’s pre-occupation with counterpoint present in the sophisticated fugue of the finale, the players brought out its complexities and intensity, their playing never ensnared, however, into the use of opaque, dense textures.  Alongside the darker musical imagery of Haydn’s “Sturm und Drang” language, the artists retained a sense of the Classical, Haydnesque style in a performance that was flexible, refined and illuminating.

We then heard String Quartet no.2 in G major opus 22/2 by the Rumanian violin virtuoso, teacher, composer and conductor George Enescu (1881-1955). Enescu is now seen as the most important figure in the musical history of his native country. String Quartet no.2 was completed in 1951, having been the final form of a work begun before World War I. Its construction is of motivic connections throughout. Once again, the Arcadia Quartet displayed much delicacy: the opening Molto moderato was contemplative and serene, the players presenting its kaleidoscope of melodies with articulacy, these giving way to a march-like middle section, finally returning to the relaxed pace of the first. With the opening of the second movement – Andante molto sostenuto ed espressivo - recalling the first theme of the first movement, ‘cellist Zsolt Török’s playing was highly expressive. The movement, subdued in mood, abounded in hints and veiled textures, its sul ponticello section adding to the mood, the peace broken by a forceful climax. The ‘cello was given the final word in this Andante movement. The third movement, a Scherzo, exuded an underlying but nevertheless present sense of disquiet, ending on a cluster chord. The final movement, varied, direct and celebratory, showed the influence of Romanian music, perhaps folk dances. Violist Traian Boală’s solo was engaging. Keeping in mind that the work was written when the composer’s confidence and self-esteem were at a very low ebb, the Arcadia Quartet evoked the work’s sense of restraint, suffering and ascetic searching.

Choosing to play Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) String Quartet in D minor D.810 “Death and the Maiden” is no easy decision nowadays, considering the number of recordings and performances we have heard of late. The Arcadia Quartet’s reading of it, however, proved more than rewarding. Taking the audience into the various aspects of the work - its programmatic source in the reuse of a part of Schubert’s own setting of Matthias Claudius’ Romantic poem “Death and the Maiden”, its terrifying moments, its gentleness, its Austrian melodiousness and the clearly autobiographical content – all aspects came together in a performance that was moving and compelling, with the macabre fanfare opening the first movement. In the theme and variations on the song in the Andante con moto, with Ana Török leading with assurance and presenting the melody’s fragility, the players take pianissimo phrases down to a daring hush. Zsolt Török’s high ‘cello solo in the second variation was reedy and rich. Following the carefully fashioned phrases moving between both violinists in the more positive 4th Variation, the final variation was both ghostly and vehement. The artists gave energy to the Scherzo:Allegro, the spectre of the ghostly visitor, however, still apparent alongside the movement’s comforting mood. The final tarantella-like movement took references from previous movements. Here, the artists juggled weightless moments with a sense of chase before spiraling into the work’s conclusion. In the work’s final burst of energy, the artists’ approach was confrontational and vulnerable at the same time. Creating a rich, personal and dramatic musical canvas of Schubert’s work, their assertiveness was equal in all parts.

The Arcadia Quartet bases its performance on deep enquiry into each work, on intelligent, objective reading of each text and good taste. The players’ fine technical know-how serves their oneness of intention in performance that is genuine, sincere and beautifully shaped. This was surely a highlight of the 2012-2013 concert season!

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