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Antares Quartet Ensemble of the First Magnitude

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Dec 7, 2006 - 12:00:00 AM in reviews_2006

   They have the same name as one of the brightest stars in the sky, 600 light-years from Earth.
   The Antares Quartet – violin, clarinet, cello and piano – drew considerably closer Tuesday night in Corbett Auditorium at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
   Presented by Chamber Music Cincinnati, the concert offered more than just another Beethoven, Debussy, or even Bartok experience. Titled “War and Peace,” the program comprised Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat” (piano trio version), Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 and Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time.” All were composed during the 20th-century’s frequent preoccupations with fighting, Stravinsky’s in neutral Switzerland during World War I, Shostakovich’s as a requiem for his best friend in 1944, Messiaen’s while interned in a Nazi prison camp in 1941.
   It was not only the gripping program that made this one of the chamber music events of the year. The prize-winning quartet inhabited the music in an extraordinary way, achieving their expressive ends through superb individual and corporate means and the most scrupulous ensemble precision.
   Stravinsky’s rakish “Soldier’s Tale” about a soldier who sells his violin, i.e. his soul, to the devil made a delightful opener. The “Three Dances” was a hoot, with its sexy tango, woozy waltz and ragtime finish. The soldier didn’t escape the devil’s clutches either, as the “Triumphal March of the Devil” testified raucously.
   Shostakovich’s Trio was heartfelt, from the solemn Andante and tragic Largo to the contrasting rapid movements, where the composer injected his masterful blend of sardonic humor and heck-with-it abandon.
   Messiaen’s eight-movement Quartet, inspired by Revelation 10:1-7, gave individual Antares players moments to shine brightly. Clarinetist Garrick Zoeter spanned “Abyss of the Birds” with a drawn out crescendo that emerged from near inaudibility to a pinnacle of sound topped by the composer’s trademark birdcalls. Cellist Rebecca Patterson spun an intense, sustained melody over pianist Eric Huebner’s slow-moving chords in “Praise to the Eternity of Jesus.”
   “Mingling of Rainbows” (surrounding the apocalyptic angel who announces the end of time) brought the four together in a halo of dazzling effects. Then violinist Vesselin Gellev, concentrating his fingering almost exclusively in the upper positions, took the music into the ether in the floating, ametrical “Praise to the Immortality of Jesus” at the end.
(first published in The Cincinnati Post Dec. 7, 2006)