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Azmari Bows in with Bartok

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Sep 26, 2004 - 11:48:26 AM in reviews_2004

(first published in The Cincinnati Post Sept. 25, 2004)

Greater Cincinnati welcomed four of its newest musical citizens, the Azmari Quartet, Friday night in Northern Kentucky University's Greaves Hall.

NKU's new Corbett String Quartet in Residence, first violinist Christina Merblum, second violinist MinTze Wu, violist Meghan Casper and cellist Rebecca Merblum succeed the Amernet String Quartet, which left in May to take up a similar position at Florida International University in Miami.

Trained at the Cleveland Institute of Music and formerly graduate quartet-in-residence at Northern Illinois University, the talented foursome chose an ambitious program for their debut concert, Beethoven's Quartet Op. 127 in E-flat Major, Bartok's Quartet No. 4 and Brahms' Quartet No. 2 in A Minor. The accomplishment they demonstrated augers well for NKU's expanding musical presence.

Rather than opening with Haydn or Mozart, the young women plunged into late Beethoven. Coming three years before his death, Op. 127 is deeply personal and world weary, however sunny it may appear at times. The players explored those recesses, individually and as a group, and it was a pleasure to savor their sound (Azmari means "to sing" in Aramaic).

The Bartok Concerto was the highlight of the evening with its meaty, Magyar flavor and host of colorful string techniques. The quartet played with squirrely agility in the Prestissimo, creating a dizzying moment in a passage of rapid glissandi and making the skin crawl playing close to the bridge and executing "snap" pizzicato. They were all educated fingers in the Allegretto pizzicato and they topped off the work with a juicy, even savage finale.

The Brahms was a bit of a letdown after Bartok, though it had lovely moments and gave the audience notice that the local music scene just got brighter.