The foursome breathed new life into Haydn’s Quartet No. 59 in G Minor (“Rider”), Bartok’s String Quartet No. 4 and Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor (“Death and the Maiden”).
The Jerusalem Quartet made its Seattle debut Thursday night with a reputation as one of the more stellar groups to have emerged in the past couple of decades. It’s safe to say the quartet lived up to its accolades.
For the UW World Series at Meany Theater, the foursome — violinists Alexander Pavlovsky and Sergei Bresler, violist Ori Kam and cellist Kyril Zlotnikov — chose Haydn’s Quartet No. 59 in G Minor (“Rider”), Bartok’s String Quartet No. 4 and Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor (“Death and the Maiden”).
Although all three works belong to mainstream genres with which a listener could feel comfortably familiar, there was a host of differences in the Jerusalem’s performance of them. The way the quartet interprets the music brought many different images to the mind during the performance, as if the musicians were painting pictures. Much of it was done through reflections of moods, which changed from phrase to phrase, like flashes of light.
They rarely played at top volume, using fortes more as peaks here and there. They used dynamics as effective coloration, changing and shading phrases all the time combined with the variations in mood, carrying both to an extent we rarely hear, but always done with subtlety.
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The Haydn received a performance of early classical elegance with clear articulation, fine ornamentation and vibrato used more as comment than ubiquitously. There was seamless give-and-take between the players with a matched tone and a relaxed style among all of them, no matter what the tone of the music: musing, urgent, lighthearted, incandescent.
Many groups beat the daylights out of Bartok, emphatically and scratchily digging out the notes. The Jerusalem was no less emphatic where it was needed but there was no digging, and scratches were used rarely so that the subtleties of the music came to the fore. Even the second movement’s beelike buzzing changed from what might have been contented bees to agitated ones in darting forays of perpetual motion, while in the fourth, the group achieved amazingly different types of pizzicato (plucking the strings), coloring the music still more.
Contrasts between decisive chords and murmuring yearning in the Schubert; hurried figures, like reaction to disaster, juxtaposed with suddenly positive moments; anguish changing to serenity and then to something ominous; the musicians brought out all this and more with ebbs and flows, so it was like seeing a musical portrait in sharp relief and vibrant colors, with intensity and delicacy at the same time.
It’s disciplined playing, and the musicians were always exactly together even in the faster and faster moments at the end of the Schubert.
The exciting performance drew enthusiastic audience response, but the Jerusalem members took their bows unsmiling — no communication with the audience at all.