On May 9th, the Amernet String Quartet, FIU’s ensemble-in-residence, was joined by pianist Baya Kakourberi and four members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in a program of Rachmaninoff and Korngold at this year’s Soluna International Music & Arts Festival. Writer J. Robin Coffelt of Theater Jones offers his critique.
The Amernet, consisting of violinists Misha Vitenson and Marcia Littley, violist Michael Klotz, and cellist Jason Calloway, are welcome visitors to Dallas. They are the string quartet in residence at Florida International University, but Klotz and Calloway have become regulars on the Metroplex chamber music scene this season, performing with groups including Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth and Blue Candlelight. As is so often the case with seasoned quartets, though, the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts. The ideal quartet performs the way a flock of birds flies, dipping and swooping in perfect formation on the basis of near-invisible cues. The Amernet displayed this kind of unity. The two-movement quartet is itself more interesting for what it presages about Rachmaninoff’s future direction as a composer than for the music as such. But the Amernet’s pristine ensemble elevated their performance from what in other hands might have been an academic exploration of a piece of juvenilia to a truly charming listening experience.
For the Amernet’s performance of the Korngold Piano Quintet in E Major, they added local pianist Baya Kakouberi. Korngold is best known for his film music—indeed, he won an Oscar for Best Original Score in 1938, for The Adventures of Robin Hood—and for his richly melodic post-Romantic violin concerto, although Dallas audiences also know him as composer of the opera Die tote Stadt, performed two seasons ago at the Dallas Opera. However, Korngold composed several chamber pieces, most before his migration to Hollywood. Although the Piano Quintet lacks the Violin Concerto’s immediate appeal, it shares its insistence on beauty as the dominant aesthetic. Kakouberi and the Amernet Quartet evoked Korngold’s lushness in more lyrical passages while handling the daunting technical demands of the third and final movement with panache.