The young Aviv String Quartet played at the Library of Congress on Thursday, using rare, centuries-old instruments from the library's celebrated collection: the "Kreisler" Guarneri del Gesu violin, "Castelbarco" Stradivarius violin and cello and the "Cassevetti" viola. The quartet, based in Tel Aviv, took full advantage of these instruments, exploring their infinite spectrum of timbres and dynamics and potential for intimate response to the players' artful bowing.
Nowhere did the "Kreisler" approximate the human voice more beautifully than in Sergey Ostrovsky's hauntingly tender opening solo in the Andante of Brahms's bucolic String Quartet, Op. 67. The violinist's magical tone gained all the more by the all-embracing support of the other players (Evgenia Epshtein, violin; Shuli Waterman, viola; Rachel Mercer, cello). The musicians took Brahms's opening Vivace at an exuberant pace tempered by pensive depth.
The taxing program began with Beethoven's Quartet, Op. 95 (the "Serioso"), followed by Shostakovich's Op. 83. The Beethoven resonated with focused energy and intimations of sheer abandon. Never publicly performed until the Soviet Union's anti-Semitic Stalinist regime ended, the Shostakovich is pervaded with the brooding soulfulness and ironic shadings of Jewish folk music, none of which was lost on the quartet.
Overall, the Aviv's tightly honed ensemble made itself felt in its no-fail interaction and sense of continuity. But why were two trifles of Ernest MacMillan included in this demanding program?
-- Cecelia Porter