Bolívar String Quartet finds its tempo giusto with Ginastera

November 19, 2014 at 1:06 pm

By Aaron Keebaugh

The Simón Bolívar String Quartet performed Tuesday night at Pickman Hall, a concert presented by the Celebrity Series.

The Simón Bolívar String Quartet made an impressive Celebrity Series debut Tuesday night at Pickman Hall.

The Venezuelan foursome proved a big draw for audiences in the Boston area this week, so much so that the Celebrity Series scheduled an additional performance a day ahead of their originally billed concert on Wednesday, which sold out in a flash.

That is due, no doubt, to the high caliber musicianship of the quartet. Its young members, who are principals in the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, brought to Boston a warm, if patchwork, ensemble sound marked by the strength of the individual players, the quartet at any time aglow with the silvery tone of first violinist Alejandro Carreño, the sweet cantabile of second violinist Boris Suárez, the silky phrases of Ismel Campos’ viola, and the burnished timbre of Aimon Mata’s cello. As for a unified sound, the quartet may still have some work ahead of them. The musicians are capable of rich uniform blend and sparkling technique, though it took some time for those qualities to show themselves Tuesday night.

The musicians led off with a tasteful reading of Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13.

Actually the first work in the genre penned by the teenaged composer, the A minor Quartet owes much to Beethoven’s example. Whole movements evolve from motivic fragments, disparate sections are laced together with agitated passages, and the final movement’s dotted figures are borrowed from the “Muβ es sein” motive from Beethoven’s Op. 135 quartet.

It was in the Mendelssohn work where the strong individual powers of the Simón Bolívar Quartet were most evident. The opening movement featured finely crafted solos from Carreño and Mata, each passing their melodies to the other with grace.

In a few places, though, the performance was marred by uneven ensemble blend. The darting passages of the finale were played with energy, but they lacked the clarity needed to pull the music off effectively. The Simón Bolívar Quartet fared better in the stormy transitions that pepper the outer movements, which sounded with strength. Their reading of the third movement was light and crisp, the lines moving gracefully as if a dance.

As an ensemble, the musicians were at their best in the slow passages. The piece’s introduction and conclusion were smoothly rendered, sounding solemn in their hymn-like textures. The second movement Adagio was especially fine, with the musicians taking care to bring out the singing inner lines of the music.

The Simón Bolívar Quartet jelled in their performance of the work that followed, Alberto Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 1, Op. 20.

Completed in 1948, the quartet is chock full of grinding energy, and the Simón Bolívar musicians mined the Bartókian power laden within the score. They dug in with percussive force for the first movement, hewing the music’s machismo lines with crispness. The quicksilver melodies and tricky pizzicatos of the second movement sounded with vitality. The finale was fiery in its deliberate tempo, the musicians shaping the malambo rhythms with the vigor of a village band.

The third movement was poetic in its introverted charm, with the quartet pouring out sheets of shimmering sound. Solo strengths were especially apparent in this movement as Carreño lofted a beautiful, amber-toned line over the stacked fourths that unfolded in the other strings.

The second half of the concert was dedicated to Brahms’ String Quartet No. 1 in C minor.

The First Quartet, like the First Symphony, occupied Brahms for many years. It is a work of stirring emotional intensity, and the Simón Bolívar Quartet, their ensemble blend fully established by this point in the evening, gave a sensitive performance.

The melodies of the first movement moved in waves, the musicians taking time to carefully craft each phrase as they spun the lines around one another. The second movement Romanze was svelte and moved with gentle flow. The musicians also found the soft delicacy of the interlocking phrases that characterized the third movement. The most turbulent music of the work lies in the finale, and the quartet played its tempestuous passages with precision.

The program will be repeated 8 p.m. Wednesday at Pickman Hall. celebrityseries.org; 617-482-2595

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