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The Carmel Quartet at Jerusalem's Music Center

By Irving Spitz

 A complete all round intellectual experience

A major problem for classical music is the diminishing interest in the genre reflected by sparse attendances at concerts. In an attempt to counteract this phenomenon, many musical organizations, including those in Israel, include introductory pre-concert lectures to familiarize the audience with the works to be played. 

The acclaimed Israeli Carmel quartet takes this a step further. In their appearances all over Israel, they have an explanatory lecture not as a preconcert format, but as an integral part of the performance. This innovative programming is often scheduled on successive evenings so that the lecture can be given in both Hebrew and English.

The Carmel quartet was originally established in 1999. Its members include Rachel Ringelstein (first violin), Liah Raikhlin (second violin), Yoel Greenberg (viola) and Tami Waterman (cello). Individually, each of these four outstanding musicians has been the recipient of many prestigious honors and prizes. 

Today, the Carmel Quartet is generally acknowledged to be one of the foremost Israeli chamber groups. Since their founding, they have garlanded several international awards and have performed to rave reviews in Israel, as well as throughout Europe and the USA either alone or together with other world-renowned musicians.

Franz Schubert died in 1828 before his 32nd birthday. Throughout his short life, he was under the influence of Beethoven who passed away in 1827. Many musicologists believe that Beethoven's death unleashed in Schubert a burst of creative activity, almost unprecedented in the history of music. 

During the last year of Schubert's short life, compositions flowed endlessly from his pen. They include the incomparable song cycle, Winterreise, another large collection of songs, a mass, several other choral works, completion of his great symphony in C, the last three piano sonatas, a group of piano impromptus, his fantasia for two pianos and the great incomparable string quintet in C major, D 956. The latter is scored for two violins, viola, and two cellos and was completed just two months before the composer's death. It only received its first public performance 22 years later. This is really astounding since this supreme masterpiece is acknowledged by many as representing the peak of the chamber music repertoire.

Schubert's quintet was featured as the backbone of the most recent concert of the Carmel Quartet in the auditorium at the Jerusalem Music Center. The entertaining yet sophisticated lecture given by musicologist, Yoel Greenberg who is also the quartet's violist, explained how the second movement's plaintive mood makes it popular as background for film, poetry and literature. He cited several cogent examples with film clips and literature readings by members of the quartet. As Greenberg pointed out, the incomparable pianist, Arthur Rubinstein himself described this adagio movement as the "entrance to heaven" and requested that it be played at his funeral. 

The first half of the concert ended with a short "quartet for a missing cellist," specially commissioned from the Israeli composer, Gideon Lewensohn as homage to the Schubert Quintet. As the final strains of this innovative work ended, it was replaced by the steady beating of a metronome, perhaps indicative of music's timeless quality. 

Cellist Hillel Zori joined the Carmel Quartet for the performance of the quintet. The musicians began with beautifully nuanced, lush, swelling fortissimo chords that usher in the work. In the second movement adagio, the string players mustered the required tranquility of the sublime first theme. Especially effective was the trio of second violin, viola, first cello accompanied by the pizzicato from first violin and second cello. The audience were held in thrall waiting for each succeeding note. This was followed by the intensely turbulent middle section finally reverting back to the quiet contemplative mood with which the movement began. 

In the hands of the Carmel quartet, the dramatic symphonic-like third movement scherzo was a real contrast with the previous adagio. It was hard to believe that the volume of sound emanated from only five string instruments. The quartet brought out all of the mood contrasts of this sophisticated movement. Finally, they successfully captured the ebullient Viennese and Hungarian dance motives of the final allegretto, which brought the most memorable concert to a conclusion.

The article was originally published in part in Esra Magazine, Issue 176, September 2014

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