Aeolus Quartet’s performance at Strathmore proves bold, but still evolving

The Aeolus Quartet is a brash, interesting group with a rising professional profile (recordings on Naxos, prizes at several international competitions and performances in Europe and Asia) even as its members are still completing their conservatory studies. Thursday at the Strathmore Mansion, the quartet offered standards by Beethoven (Op. 18 No. 6) and Brahms (Op. 111), sandwiching them between two easy-listening modern pieces. This first impression was inconclusive.

Aeolus displays the fruits of dedicated preparation, as far as ensemble and interpretation. But its members have shortcomings or peculiarities that will need to be resolved or improved if the quartet is to be viable long term. First violinist Nicholas Tavani has a small, pinched vibrato that never blooms into real beauty (with too many tiny slips of intonation). His bow-hair is so tight that it skates across the top of the strings, further robbing him of color. Cellist Alan Richardson also has too much left-hand tension and, inexplicably, played the gutsy Beethoven quartet holding his bow baroque-style (several inches up from the frog), returning to normal thereafter. Second violinist Rachel Shapiro was good but without a lot of variety to the intensity. The most appealing, natural player was violist Gregory Luce, but he is using (temporarily, one hopes) a small instrument that lacks depth to the sound. That the Aelous gave as good a corporate account of itself as it did speaks partly to the top-level coaching the members have received.

The two shorter works — by Steven Snowden and Alexandra Bryant — were similar in character, Appalachia-inspired riffs chasing each other around, such as we hear in Arvo Part or John Adams. Pleasant stuff, but little lingers in the mind afterward. The venerable Michael Tree, one of Aeolus’s coaches, joined the quartet in the Brahms. Although they paid homage to him in introductory remarks, a better tribute would have been emulating him in performance: Every note, no matter how short, must have both aural beauty and be part of an intelligible musical line; not every gesture requires full energy; there are many ways to underline a passage, including backing off from it. These and many other lessons, the Aeolus is still in the process of absorbing. But with their numerous local ties, we should have the opportunity to watch them with encouragement and approbation.

Battey is a freelance writer.



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