Sometimes an encore tells you everything about a band. That’s how it was in New Orleans on Wednesday, as the Jerusalem String Quartet closed a vibrant night of music making with the haunted slow movement from Debussy’s only quartet.
The crowd, which had called the group back for repeated bows, fell into breathless silence as Dixon Hall filled with spooky drones, sighs, and soaring grace notes: an account that steered clear of pastel clichés, and instead evoked the twilight world of Debussy’s great opera, “Pelleas and Melisande.”
The Israeli foursome -- cellist Kyril Zlotnikov, violist Ori Kam, and violinists Alexander Pavlovsky, and Sergei Bresler -- proved equally fresh in accounts of Wolf’s “Italian Serenade,” Mozart’s “String Quartet, No. 22,” and Brahms’ third and final essay in the form. Overall, their playing exemplified the rich, Russian string sound that distinguishes so many Israeli artists -- a sound that easily filled the Tulane University venue, as the quartet made its local debut, and launched the 58th season of the New Orleans Friends of Music.
In the Mozart quartet, the Jerusalem players showed that classical form isn’t a restrictive template, but a springboard that the great composer used to launch a succession of glorious melodies. Their account was full of deft hand offs, especially between the dominant voices of cello and first violin.
Brahms let the Jerusalem Quartet shine, providing a perfect vehicle for four smart, listening musicians who responded to each other with the in-the-moment aplomb of improvisers. This was music full of sudden pauses, lingering silences, dramatic entries and something akin to the rhythmic displacements that jazzmen call swing. The violist was a particular standout, seizing attention with the big, warm, wine-dark sound that once earned him the principal chair in the Berlin Philharmonic. Still, this was a group triumph. After 18 years on the road, the Jerusalem Quartet has come to a perfect balance, the balance of four tight-rope walkers on a single high wire, of individual daredevils whose sense of ensemble keeps them on course in the most vertiginous settings.
If you missed the concert, check out the group’s recordings. (We reviewed a recent Mozart CD). Jerusalem Quartet has also produced a fine recording of Schumann’s piano quartet and quintet with Alexander Melnikov.
Chris Waddington, New Orleans Times Picayune
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