Alisa Weilerstein and Ariel Quartet emphasized teamwork in New Orleans string summit
Alisa Weilerstein played for the New Orleans Friends of Music on Monday (Feb. 3), and the superstar cellist made it clear that years of international touring, big name collaborators, glowing reviews, and a MacArthur "genius grant" haven't gone to her 31-year-old head. In fact, Weilerstein proved a total team player in an expansive program that paired her with the Ariel Quartet.
Like Weilerstein, the young Israeli ensemble – violist Jan Gruning, cellist Amit Even-Tov, and violinists Gershon Gerchikov and Alexandra Kazovsky -- is noted for its passionate, expressive approach to established repertoire.
On Monday, that outlook produced dividends, even in compositions that would have been spoiled by an overdose of Romantic emotionalism. In the first half of the program, for example, Ariel played one of Beethoven's earliest quartets (Op. 18, No. 2) and teamed with Weilerstein on a vivacious Boccherini quintet from the 1770s (Op. 11, No. 5). What delighted in both works were the many ways that the players -- and composers -- rambled amid the box hedge parterres of classical form, before nimbly leaping over them. To achieve such effects, one needs to honor the geometric constraints of the underlying design while planning those sudden, athletic vaults into Spanish dance (Boccherini) and oompah-pah jollity (Beethoven).
Those seeking something weightier got their reward after intermission when Weilerstein joined the Ariel players in Schubert's Cello Quintet of 1828 – a work written when the composer was terminally ill. Stretching close to an hour, this account had me thinking of artists who tread similar ground in their late work: the D. H. Lawrence of "Bavarian Gentians," the elderly Rembrandt of the final self-portraits. To hear a quintet of young string players deliver such a message -- of rage, acceptance, and resigned yearning for a life reduced to memories -- was doubly piquant, and a tribute to their maturity as artists.