The Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth, which is slowly moving into string-quartet territory, presented another such ensemble in the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth on Saturday afternoon. The group this time was the Amernet String Quartet (it takes an exercise of will not to put in a dot: Amer.net).
The society has generally teamed pianists with small groups of strings, but it has been rethinking its mission of late and has been bringing in string quartets (two violins, viola and cello -- which many think of as the classic chamber-music grouping). It's not dropping pianists entirely; in fact, Katia Skanavi and Alexander Shtarkman, past Cliburn Competition finalists, will participate in the society's programs March 9 and March 30.
At any rate, the Amernet proved to be a valuable addition to the society's lineup. It presented an appealing program consisting of Beethoven's Serioso Quartet, Shostakovich's Quartet No. 4 and Dvorak's American Quartet.
The members of the Amernet, who are based at Florida International University, are violinists Misha Vitenson and Marcia Littley, violist Michael Klotz and cellist Jason Calloway. I found the lower strings particularly appealing, though the violins gave plenty of musical pleasure.
As the title indicates, Beethoven's quartet is a serious-minded work with plenty of drama, though it has some gorgeous ingredients, especially in the final movement. The Amernet gave a stark, muscular performance not damaged by some slight slippage in intonation.
Before the performance of the Shostakovich, cellist Calloway remarked that the quartet has been called "the greatest Jewish music of all by a non-Jewish composer." This refers to the fact that the spirit and techniques of Jewish music permeate this quartet, as they did a number of other works by Shostakovich. It was not a characteristic that would have endeared the composer to the Soviet establishment of his time.
The Amernet's performance turned out to be the most moving one of the afternoon. It was lovely in a sad way, with some faux-cheerful passages not alleviating a sense of melancholy. The whole was a confirmation of the feeling of many (including me) that Shostakovich's string quartets are his greatest music.
Dvorak's American Quartet may not have had the depth of Shostakovich's, but the Amernet excelled in its lovely performance of a beautiful work.