The supposedly dying art of classical music keeps getting fresh jolts from all the young talent out there that has yet to buy into that imminent demise notion. One particularly healthy part of the business is chamber music, which seems to get enriched year after year by new ensembles loaded with skill and personality.
A case in point is the Aeolus Quartet, formed in 2008 and currently the graduate resident string quartet at Juilliard. A recent residency at the University of Maryland also played a part in honing the group, which was presented Sunday afternoon by the excellent Music in the Great Hall.
The players -- violinists Nicholas Tavani and Rachel Shapiro, violist (and Peabody Conservatory alum) Gregory Luce, cellist Alan Richardson -- have clearly developed the inner rapport needed for a successful quartet. They listen to each other, and they listen for the beneath-the-surface things a composer is telling them through a score.
What was most rewarding on Sunday was the way the Aelous Quartet combined smoothly meshed technique with a sense of spontaneity and discovery.
It was evident at the start of the program in Beethoven's F major Quartet, Op. 18, No. 1, which sounded as startling as it must have to its first audiences. The cleverness of motivic development, the abundant flashes of color, and, most striking, the tense beauty of the Adagio, all jumped out freshly.
The same intensity characterized a performance of Berg's Op. 3, the highlight of the afternoon. By placing it right after the Beethoven piece, the musicians could point up the similar way that, a century later, Berg pushed the quartet genre in form and content.
The Aelous players dug into the thorny work with admirable technical clarity, tonal vibrancy and, above all, an appreciation for the dark vein of lyricism running through it. The surging performance communicated richly at every turn.
At the close of the concert, Ravel's incandescent Quartet found the ensemble once again operating at a keenly expressive level. A spot or two could have been cleaner or subtler in tone or articulation, but this was still very impressive music-making from a group that ought to enjoy a long, rewarding career.