Come March 2013, the Jerusalem Quartet offers a complete cycle of Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets at Lincoln Center. Wednesday evening at Rackham Auditorium, Ann Arbor audiences got a small, but potent sample of the riches in store for New York when the Jerusalem Quartet opened the University Musical Society Chamber Series with two Shostakovich quartets.
A Beethoven quartet -- Op. 18, No. 6 -- separated the two Shostakovich quartets (No. 7 to begin; No. 3 to end), shining like a cheery beacon between them. It’s strange to have the work emitting the most light in the middle; if the form of the concert was unusual -- mystery, melancholy and darkness, and questions more than answers to both begin and end -- the Jerusalem’s distilled, concentrated playing made it all work. And it was apt and correct for there to be no encore. The hushed finish of the third quartet, with the air still seeming to vibrate after the last note, could properly have no sequel.
The group’s ensemble, as it has been on past visits, was stellar. I don’t remember how the players have assorted themselves in the past, but Wednesday the formation was as unusual as the programming, with the two violinists, Alexander Pavlovsky and Sergei Bresler, bookending the foursome (rather than sitting next to each other), and cellist Kyril Zlotnikov and violist Ori Kam in between. It seemed to make for great communication -- and super balance; it was particular fun to watch Zlotnikov signal the tenor of his next conversational gambit.
But watching was just a bonus. One was instantly immersed in the sound-world the quartet created.
The opening of the third quartet, for example, was jaunty, relaxed, insouciant, with first violinist Pavlovsky virtually whistling the nonchalant little tune Shostakovich provides before becoming more contemplative and questioning. And the ending of the seventh quartet was as stunning as that of the third: the peaceful major chord at the end was a balm to heal all wounds.
The quartet’s sound in the Shostakovich pieces was lean in a fine, laser-focused way, brutal when needed, too. In the Beethoven, it was more generous, though still finely spun. And everywhere, phrases were beautifully pointed up, shaped with artful simplicity. The concert may not have been conventional, but it was freighted with super playing and deep musical satisfactions.
– SUSAN ISAACS NISBETT, AnnArbor.com