August 2, 2023

Summer Chamber Concerts Series Closes Season with Spirited String Quartet

By Nancy Plum

Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts closed its 56th season last week with a performance by Dalí Quartet, an ensemble of four string players committed to high-quality performance of classical and romantic repertoire, as well as a particular focus on works of Latin America. Violinists Ari Isaacman-Beck and Carlos Rubio, violist Adriana Linares, and cellist Jesús Morales came to Princeton’s Nassau Presbyterian Church last Wednesday night to present a concert of chamber music by Franz Schubert, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and renowned 20th-century Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. Founded in 2004 and currently based in Philadelphia, Dalí Quartet showed in this concert the well-blended sound and combined technical facility these musicians have achieved over the past 10 years.

Throughout Schubert’s all-too-short life in Vienna, the string quartet was one of the most popular forms of instrumental music, with Schubert composing a number of them for his own family ensemble. Written when Schubert was just 16, String Quartet No. 10 in E-flat Major was known as the “Haushaltung” (“Household”) quartet for its suitability for amateur musicians playing in their own homes. Dalí Quartet displayed a rich ensemble sound from the outset of this work, with well-tapered phrases from all the players and unified dynamics. First violinist Isaacman-Beck was a particularly physical player, with all the instrumentalists playing Schubert’s melodic music expressively.

The second movement “Scherzo” featured Schubert’s upbeat rhythmic humor with a contrasting melodic “Trio” suggesting a Viennese folk song. In the “Trio,” Isaacman-Beck’s first violin soared over the rest of the Quartet, and the Dalí players collectively demonstrated great variety in tempi and phrasing. The spirited “Finale” to the work showed clean playing between the two violins, with a teasing and humorous melodic line against delicate pizzicato accompaniment.

Dalí Quartet contrasted Schubert’s Viennese elegance with the raw fire and saucy passion of Piazzolla, Argentina’s musical native son. The tango has been a way of life in Argentina, and through his music, Piazzolla sought to release the dance form from traditional cultural patterns. Piazzolla’s 1956 Tango Ballet reflected the composer’s time in New York City combined with Argentine musical flavor. Dalí Quartet began the opening “Títulos” (“Titles”) emphasizing the street sounds with an underlying tango rhythm. A bit of Broadway marked the second movement “Calle” (“Street”), and violist Linares brought out the pensive nature of the third movement “Encuentro — Olvido” (“I find — I forget”). This movement was particularly elegant, as the theme moved to first violin with a counter-melody in the viola, all accompanied by the graceful pizzicato playing of cellist Morales.

The fifth movement “Soledad” (“Solitude”) was also poignant, led by Morales in duet with violist Linares. Dissonant effects from the two violins gave way to an expressive melody from Isaacson-Beck. Dalí Quartet closed the six-movement Tango set with the jazzy and streetwise “Retorno a Calle” (“I return to the street”), ending the work on an unusually unsettled chord.

A great admirer of Schubert and some would argue equally as proficient a melodist, Tchaikovsky composed only five pieces of chamber music, three of which were string quartets. Tchaikovsky’s 1871 String Quartet No. 1 in D Major was rooted in the classical chamber tradition as an homage to Schubert, and the Dalí musicians kept phrases fittingly clean. The Quartet players well handled the quick fingering of the first movement’s closing passages, which were clearly a tribute to Beethoven in their ferocity and speed.

Tchaikovsky composed the second movement “Andante” around a Ukrainian folk melody telling of a peasant’s fantasies of love, and the Dalí Quartet well captured the dreaminess of the story. The ensemble uniformly executed the rise and fall of the music, as Isaacson-Beck’s playing in the violin’s lower register matched well with the timbre of Linares’ viola. The Dalí players brought out especially effectively the joy of the closing “Finale,” with nimble playing from cellist Morales and animated energy all around, well complementing the enthusiastic response of the audience at Nassau Presbyterian Church to this concert and the Summer Concerts series as a whole.