A Youthful Ensemble Turns Up the Intensity
Few concerts reach climaxes in the encores. After an hour or two of strenuous playing, it’s certainly not unusual for performers to be reluctant to push themselves too much further. Even if the party pieces unveiled when musicians are called back for more burst with dazzling notes, they often end up being merely pleasant.
But the alert Ariel Quartet has energy to spare, and all the appealing aspects of its artistry converged on Monday when it answered a warm ovation at SubCulture, the performance space underneath the Culture Project on Bleecker Street, with the third-movement Scherzo from Beethoven’s Quartet No. 2 in G (Op. 18, No. 2).
Earlier in the program, the group tended to veer between a soft, feathery tone and an aggression that verged on harshness, particularly in the intimate SubCulture space. What were pleasantly jagged edges in the finale of Haydn’s Quartet in G (Op. 76, No. 1) could sometimes seem simply crushing and loud, as in the second movement of Berg’s Opus 3 Quartet or in the monumental Grosse Fuge that Beethoven used to end his Quartet in B flat (Op. 130).
None of the Ariel Quartet’s members are over 30, and they tended on Monday to favor the kind of raw enthusiasm often associated with young musicians over tonal allure or variety of color. Leaning toward one another during intense passages, the players practically rose out of their chairs. But that gusto did serve to make a small room like SubCulture — which presented the group as part of its series with the 92nd Street Y — seem even smaller.
In the encore, which the group (the violinists Alexandra Kazovsky and Gershon Gerchikov, the violist Jan Grüning and the cellist Amit Even-Tov) played from memory, sweetness and harshness, energy and restraint, were finally in perfect balance. There was a sense of arrival and transformation as the theme returned near the end, the test of a good performance of this repertory. It was in Haydn and early Beethoven that the group was most potent, with a gift for filling the pristine structures of Classicism with fire.