Jerusalem Quartet shows their lyrical side in Boston debut

March 30, 2014 at 3:58 pm

By Stefanie Lubkowski

The Jerusalem Quartet performed music of Haydn, Bartok and Brahms Saturday night at Jordan Hall.

The Celebrity Series of Boston presented the Boston debut of the Jerusalem Quartet Saturday night at Jordan Hall. This young quartet has dedicated itself to the masterworks of the genre and this evening showed off their full command of the field with a program that ranged from Haydn’s genre-defining work to Shostakovich’s late 20th-century efforts.

Haydn’s “Sunrise” Quartet in B-flat Major (Op. 76, no. 4) begins with a rising line in the first violin, rendered by Alexander Pavlovsky as tenderly as if it were written by Schubert. Unfortunately this bold interpretive impulse did not continue for the duration of the work. While the Haydn gave the quartet ample opportunity to display their bright, polished sound, they approached the Sunrise quartet with a homogenous elegance that failed to capitalize on the energetic flourishes of the finale.

Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 12 in D-flat Major, Opus 133 had enough tension and suspense to transcend Jerusalem’s suave style. The quartet still displayed a tendency to emphasize beauty over bite, with their controlled dynamics and preference for the gentler harmonies and more lyrical themes of the first movement. Yet once Shostakovich’s dissonant angularity became dominant, the ensemble brought forth some truly intense playing. Especially exciting were the spidery sul ponticello cello figures in the second movement and Pavlovsky’s’s robust pizzicato in the fourth. With a committed finale, the Jerusalem Quartet delivered a satisfying, multi-colored expressivity that supplied some of the best moments of the concert.

In Brahms’ String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Opus 51, no. 2, the Jerusalem members again tended toward lightness, but without neglecting the storminess which often marks Brahms’ music. The performance of the first movement was abruptly interrupted when Pavlovsky broke his E string. During the brief wait, violist Ori Kam regaled the audience with a story about Bartok’s Fourth String Quartet.

The ensemble resumed the Brahms at the recapitulation, which providing another showcase for their melodic penchant with an extra rendering of the sentimental second theme. Much like in the Shostakovich, once they were fully immersed in Brahms’ music, the quartet gave equal force to the rougher themes, highlighting the narrative drama with deep dynamic contrasts and heavier timbres. These more passionate inclinations came to full fruition in the finale, where the main violin theme soared while the rest of the ensemble maintained a bristling momentum.

To finish the evening, the Jerusalem Quartet left the audience with a brilliant rendition of Shostakovich’s arrangement of a polka from his ballet The Age of Gold. This light and humorous piece is interspersed with some rather acerbic passages, and the quartet managed the transitions gracefully while playing up the polka’s fun-loving mood.

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