AT ONE WITH BRAHMS, INDIVIDUALLY OR AS A GROUP
JERUSALEM QUARTET PLAYS THE 92ND STREET Y
By JAMES R. OESTREICH
The concert of the acclaimed Jerusalem Quartet and the suddenly ubiquitous Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan at the 92nd Street Y on Saturday evening offered single-minded yet diverse pleasures. It was the middle program in a series of three, called “Intimate Brahms,” and it was Brahms all the way, but Brahms in a variety of forms, moods and colors.
It also gave the Jerusalem players a chance to show individual versatility as well as their exceptional quality as a team. “The audience will be able to hear the four instruments meld into a single 16-string instrument,” Ori Kam, the quartet’s violist, says in a program interview. To a listener making his first acquaintance with the group, that seemed an apt description of its style.
Unlike, say, the Emerson String Quartet, which draws much of its energy from a tension among assertive musicians, the Jerusalem seems to prefer a seamless blend. This was evident from the outset, in Brahms’s somewhat dark String Quartet in A minor (Op. 51, No. 2), not only in exquisitely balanced chords but also in close matching and intertwining of individual lines and sonorities.
Not that any of the players lack personality, virtuosity or flair. Each rose strongly to solo moments in the A minor quartet and in Brahms’s Quintet for Strings in G (Op. 111).
What’s more, three members of the quartet are being featured in sonatas in the series, along with Mr. Barnatan. On Saturday came the turn of the cellist, Kyril Zlotnikov, in Brahms’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in E minor (Op. 38). (Besides Mr. Kam and Mr. Zlotnikov, the Jerusalem Quartet includes Alexander Pavlovsky and Sergei Bresler, violinists.)
Mr. Zlotnikov gave a deft, fluid reading of the sonata, strong enough to stand up to Brahms’s luxuriant piano writing and maintain a full partnership (definitely the word here; not accompaniment). And Mr. Barnatan, for his part, raised a mighty ruckus to do that writing full justice.
For Mr. Zlotnikov it was good preparation for the opening of the G major Quintet, a surprisingly sunny work among Brahms’s late creations. The cellist has to start by singing out from under the full weight of the other four instruments, or if you prefer, a different single 16-string instrument. The guest violist, Hsin-Yun Huang, made it easy enough to keep thinking in those terms, blending into the mix with pure, lovely tone.
The evening gave ample scope to Brahms’s music in its various aspects and seeming contradictions, again well described by Mr. Kam: “intellectual and emotional, earnest and sentimental, complex and heartbreakingly simple.”
From left, Alexander Pavlovsky, Sergei Bresler, Kyril Zlontnikov and Ori Kam of the Jerusalem Quartet at the 92nd Street Y on Saturday.
Credit Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times