Jerusalem Quartet Blends Lightness and Charm with Breadth and Intensity

United StatesUnited States Haydn, Prokofiev, Beethoven: Jerusalem Quartet (Alexander Pavlovsky & Sergei Bresler [violins], Ori Kam [viola], Kyril Zlotnikov [cello]), Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 31.10.2016. (BJ)

Haydn – String Quartet in D major, Op.64 No.5 Hob.III:63 ‘Lark’
Prokofiev – String Quartet No.1 in B minor Op.50
Beethoven – String Quartet in F major, Op.59 No.3 ‘Razumovsky’

Are there any mediocre string quartets at large in the world these days? Maybe there are some such lurking somewhere—but the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society treated its audience on this occasion to yet another in its roster of first-rate ensembles.

Both interpretatively and technically, the Jerusalem Quartet, founded in 1996, is a match for any of its contemporaries. Perhaps the first thing that strikes one in listening to these musicians is the richness of harmonic texture that rests on the foundation of Kyril Zlotnikov’s cello tone, which is at the same time rock solid and warmly expressive. And the other three members of the group measure up to the same lofty standard, with a gifted and authoritative first violinist in the person of Alexander Pavlovsky, and with Sergei Bresler and Ori Kam filling in the inner parts with polished and imaginative artistry.

Haydn’s delightful ‘Lark’ Quartet demonstrated from the start that these players command all the delicacy of touch needed in music so airy and charming—there was none of the heaviness of sonority that one might lazily think of as characteristically “Russian.” Nor was the first of Prokofiev’s two string quartets, which followed, delivered with excessive levels of its composer’s supposedly native soulfulness. It is, in any case, a somewhat untypical example of his style of writing, the slow finale in particular sounding less like Prokofiev than like a deeply introspective Alban Berg.

After such soul-searching, Beethoven’s Op.59 No.1 came as an exhilarating breath of fresh air. Once again, the performers caught all of the music’s varied modes and moods to perfection, from the Olympian breadth of the opening Allegro through to the piquancy of the finale (with its indubitably Russian theme!), taking in a deliciously witty realization of the Allegretto’s fascinating scherzo/slow movement blend, and plumbing the consciously tragic import of the Adagio with due intensity.

Bernard Jacobson

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