Amermet Quartet plus Christopher Rex perform a string quintet transcription of Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata to close the 2019 Madison Chamber Music Festival. (credit: Mark Gresham)

Review: Amernet Quartet sheds new light on some familiar Beethoven

Mark Gresham | 12 JUN 2019

MADISON, GA—  The final concert in the 2019 Madison Chamber Music Festival took place late Sunday afternoon, an all-Beethoven affair featuring the Amernet String Quartet (violinists Misha Vitenson and Franz Felkl, violist Michael Klotz and cellist Jason Calloway) plus cellist Christopher Rex, the festival’s artistic director. It was an unusual survey of Beethoven’s music as two of the three works on the program were transcriptions of well-known works by the composer.

Rather than in the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center‘s main auditorium, Sunday’s concert was held in The Hall on Foster, at the other end of the parking lot from the main building. Familiarly known as “the old gym” to some long-time locals, the building had once been the gymnasium for the public school that was to ultimately become the Cultural Center.

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The Hall on Foster was set up with tables for the majority of audience, plus extra chairs on the raised wings that had long ago held the gymnasium’s bleachers. Apéritifs and hors d’oeuvres were served on a buffet at the back of the hall beginning an hour before the concert, so the seating at tables as advantageous, although the acoustics of the more flexible space are simply not up to those of the main auditorium.

The program opened with the sole work in original form, the String Quartet No. 5 in A major, Op. 18. It”s an early period work, which Beethoven modeled directly on Mozart’s String Quartet No. 18 in A major, K. 464. It definitely has its Mozartean qualities, but also is reminiscent of Beethoven’s own Sonata for Violin & Piano No. 2 in A major, Op. 12/2. The “Menuetto” movement, although simple, seems the most personal and stylistically forward-looking of the lot, its Trio in particular.


Then came the transcriptions. First, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No, 15, Op. 28, as arranged for string quartet by composer Jeffrey Briggs. Briggs has  transcribed for string quartet a total of 98 movements from Beethoven’s music, which he collectively calls “The (New) Beethoven Quartets.” Amernet String Quartet performed all of them over the course of three years, so it’s no total surprise to see this transcription of Piano Sonata No. 15 on this program.

Briggs’ transcription succeeds on a moderate level, but a more attractive, anonymous transcription was next in line, one which would conclude the program: Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata – the Violin Sonata No. 9, Op. 47. The transcription in this case is for string quintet, so cellist Christopher Rex joined in the performance as the fifth player. Simrock, who published the first edition of the original “Kreutzer” Sonata in 1805, published the string quintet arrangement after the composer’s death. It is suspected to have perhaps been arranged by Beethoven himself, but there is no definite proof.

It does feel more Beethoven-ish in character, and more idiomatic, than Briggs’ transcription. But no matter, as the entire concert was an altogether interesting musical excursion, allowing the audience to experience at least a couple of Beethoven’s familiar works in a different light. ■

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