Aeolus Quartet gets new Rocky River Chamber Music Society year off to vibrant start (review)

By MARK SATOLA, Cleveland Plain Dealer

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio — The Aeolus Quartet is a young ensemble, as string quartets go, having formed at the Cleveland Institute of Music in 2008. But already it sounds as if it’s been performing together for many more years than its birth certificate indicates.

The group was an auspicious choice to open the Rocky River Chamber Music Society’s 2015-16 season Monday night at the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church. Quartets by Haydn, Bartók and Dvorák were offered, with introductions from the stage by the quartet’s personable (and often wryly funny) members.

One of Haydn’s late quartets, the D major, Op. 71 No. 2, opened the program. Haydn’s late-in-life mastery is immediately evident in the work’s concise rhetoric and its constantly evolving thematic material. A full musical journey is completed in under 20 minutes.

Immediately evident, too, was the Aeolus Quartet’s fully formed personality. A rich and warm tone combined with precise ensemble playing (that managed also to come across as fluid and natural), and an impressive musical intelligence guided every technical and dramatic turn.

There is much to do in Haydn’s quartets for the first violinist, and in that role Nicholas Tavani showed himself to be, despite his youth, an alert and sensitive artist, with beautiful tone and exquisite phrasing.

This is clearly a string quartet to watch.
Any quartet by Bartók is a welcome occurrence, though the fourth quartet, easily the most advanced of them, is a little overplayed; so it was a pleasant surprise when it was announced from the stage that instead of the fourth quartet, the far-less-often heard No. 2 would be performed.

After an enthusiastic introduction by Tavani (complete with musical examples played on his violin), the Aeolus Quartet gave a first-rate performance of this three-movement score, full of style and a deep understanding of the composer’s bitter-tinged essay.

The searching and often anguished opening movement was rendered with a fine ear for the shifting, chromatic tonalities, with the deftest touch at moments where the music reaches a Ravel-like delicacy; while the elegiac third movement drifted beautifully till it expired with a final exhalation.

In the wild ride that is the second movement, the quartet allowed the music to gallop at full speed but held firmly to the reins, demonstrating an impressive flair for Bartók’s supremely difficult demands. There were a few moments here and there where textures got a little blurry, but that is forgivable in the heat of live performance. This ensemble is poised to become a leading interpreter of Bartók.

Dvorák’s last quartet, No. 14 in A Major, ended the program. The Aeolus players demonstrated the same understanding for Dvorák’s Bohemian world as for Bartok’s Magyar sound and Haydn’s innovations.

The scherzo was taken at a fast tempo, rendering the music all in quicksilver, while maintaining the tonal richness that is characteristic of Dvorák’s quartet writing. The sweetness of the slow movement was underscored by some lovely playing, especially in a beautifully balanced interlude wherein the second violin dances attendant to a heartfelt melody from the first violin; Tavani and second violinist Rachel Shapiro were outstanding here.

The finale was fairly bursting with energy in Aeolus’ hands, but that could be said about everything they played Monday night. This is clearly a string quartet to watch.

Review: Baltimore Sun

The supposedly dying art of classical music keeps getting fresh jolts from all the young talent out there that has yet to buy into that imminent demise notion. One particularly healthy part of the business is chamber music, which seems to get enriched year after year by new ensembles loaded with skill and personality.

A case in point is the Aeolus Quartet, formed in 2008 and currently the graduate resident string quartet at Juilliard. A recent residency at the University of Maryland also played a part in honing the group, which was presented Sunday afternoon by the excellent Music in the Great Hall.

The players — violinists Nicholas Tavani and Rachel Shapiro, violist (and Peabody Conservatory alum) Gregory Luce, cellist Alan Richardson — have clearly developed the inner rapport needed for a successful quartet. They listen to each other, and they listen for the beneath-the-surface things a composer is telling them through a score.

What was most rewarding on Sunday was the way the Aelous Quartet combined smoothly meshed technique with a sense of spontaneity and discovery.

It was evident at the start of the program in Beethoven’s F major Quartet, Op. 18, No. 1, which sounded as startling as it must have to its first audiences. The cleverness of motivic development, the abundant flashes of color, and, most striking, the tense beauty of the Adagio, all jumped out freshly.

The same intensity characterized a performance of Berg’s Op. 3, the highlight of the afternoon. By placing it right after the Beethoven piece, the musicians could point up the similar way that, a century  later, Berg pushed the quartet genre in form and content.

The Aelous players dug into the thorny work with admirable technical clarity, tonal vibrancy and, above all, an appreciation for the dark vein of lyricism running through it. The surging performance communicated richly at every turn.

At the close of the concert, Ravel’s incandescent Quartet found the ensemble once again operating at a keenly expressive level. A spot or two could have been cleaner or subtler in tone or articulation, but this was still very impressive music-making from a group that ought to enjoy a long, rewarding career.

Review: Austin-American Statesman

Luke Quinton, October 2010

“Aeolus Quartet is a powerful and thoughtful group of young musicians who…are charting an ascending course.”

“The Mendelssohn gave Aeolus another chance to display a unity of technique and purpose, the violins and viola executing precise, exposed notes flawlessly.”

“Beethoven’s “String Quartet in F Major, Op. 18” begins with a long allegro, in which Aeolus sounded very at ease, confident in their interpretation. They created weighted pauses — sustained silence, that made for some dramatic space between the music.”

Review: Strad Magazine

Carlos Maria Solare, Dec 2009 (Pg 18)

“…I was most sad to see the American Aeolus Quartet depart.”

“[The Aeolus Quartet] gave a high-octane performance of Bartok’s Fifth, well contrasted… I especially enjoyed violist Gregory Luce turning outwards for his many solos, a la Oskar Nebal (and he is a similarly big man).”

Review: Aeolus Quartet program varied, satisfying

Susan Peña, Reading Eagle 2013

The house was packed to hear this concert, and Shapiro, along with violinist Nicholas Tavani, violist Gregory Luce and cellist Alan Richardson, played superbly in a varied and deeply satisfying program.

The musicians opened with Mozart’s well-known String Quartet in C Major (“Dissonance”), whose introductory bars sound so startlingly modern with eerie chromatic lines over a throbbing pulse.

Once the Allegro intervenes like a burst of sunshine, the rest of the piece is what you would expect from Mozart – supple lines, played in this case with a sweet, gentle touch; a gorgeous Andante played tenderly as a lullaby; a sly minuet with a worried trio; and a scurrying Allegro-all given splendid readings.

They played the truly dissonant Alban Berg String Quartet, Op. 3, written in 1910; at that time, even before the riot-inducing Stravinsky “Rite of Spring,” it was so cutting-edge it blew away Berg’s teacher, Arnold Schoenberg.

But can one really call a piece this impassioned, this evocative and full of heart “dissonant”? Only when compared with what came before. While there are disturbing passages and creepy effects (all of which have by now become commonplace), the piece – especially in this group’s hands – is both seductive and profound.

The musicians concluded the concert with two pieces by Jean Sibelius. His String Quartet in D minor (“Intimate Voices”), written only two years before the Berg, couldn’t be more different in style. Like the symphonic works for which he is best known, this quartet evokes snowy vistas and birch forests.

From the haunting dialogue between first violin and cello that opened the first movement, through the devilishly quick and light Vivace, the introspective Adagio, the captivating and folkish Allegretto and the fiddling frenzy of the finale, the ensemble played with gusto, big souls and, at the end, absolute glee.[/column]

Review: Masterful Performance by Aeolus String Quartet

Susan L Peña, Reading Eagle, October 2009:

“The young musicians’ performance of their ambitious program was stellar, their commitment is obvious, and I predict a great future for them.”

“…shimmering, emotionally satisfying…all of it made sense, and all of it was sensitively, lovingly performed.”

“They opened with a spirited and precise rendition of Franz Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in B minor, Op. 64, No. 2…”

“Their reading of Franz Schubert’s String Quartet in D minor, “Death and the Maiden,” was fresh and exciting, from their foreboding and passionate playing of the first movement, with its “Erl King”-like triplets, to their febrile finale.”

“The earthy Scherzo, with its delicate and pretty trio, was simply delicious.”