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Ariel Quartet Paddles Hard, But Still Gets in Over Its Head

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Although its members are barely into their 20s and still studying at the New England Conservatory, the Ariel String Quartet has won a host of competitions and already boasts an international career. Its concert Monday evening at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater was its second Washington appearance. Paul Katz, director of the NEC's stellar quartet training program, said that he has never heard a quartet this young play this well. Indeed, its technical finish is remarkable.

But for all their talent and top-level training, these musicians still have some major seasoning and developing to do. Certainly performing late Beethoven at this juncture is ill-advised. In the Op. 130 quartet (including the "Grosse Fuge"), their interpretation seemed callow. Passagework ran by with little nuance or complexity, the jerky Fugue subject was played without the 16th-note rest that Beethoven painstakingly notated throughout, and the Cavatina came off as a simulacrum of heartbreak rather than a true portrayal of it (where were the expressive slides?).

Things were little better in the less demanding "Dissonance" Quartet by Mozart. All three Allegros were slightly too fast, a problem exacerbated on each repeat as the group had to regain the original tempo from the one to which it had settled. The members were careless about sustaining vibrato into silences, particularly after loud chords, and the tone quality in general was two-dimensional.

A quartet this talented and focused will only improve, and signs all point to major accomplishments in the future. But at this point, things are rushed a bit.

-- Robert Battey

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