JERUSALEM QUARTET PRESENTS SATISFYING LINEUP OF MOZART, SCHUMANN AND SCHULHOFF (REVIEW)
By MARK SATOLA
SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio -- At twenty-something years old, the Jerusalem Quartet is a fairly young ensemble, as things go in the music world. Since it came together in 1993, the quartet has seen only one change in personnel, while consistently earning high praise from audiences and reviewers around the world for its characteristic sound and artistry.
Tuesday night at Plymouth Church in Shaker Heights, they returned to Northeast Ohio under the auspices of the Cleveland Chamber Music Society for a well-balanced program spanning a couple of centuries. If the lineup of works by Mozart, Schumann and Erwin Schulhoff seemed a little like a musical food pyramid (one quartet each from the Classical and Romantic eras, with a bit of exotic spice from the early 20th century), the total effect was satisfying, and demonstrated the quartet's ability to convincingly inhabit eclectic repertoire.
The Jerusalem Quartet has a warm and silken tone, which they deploy with a noteworthy nimbleness as they navigate the contrapuntal complexities of the various works they play.
That nimbleness served them especially well in Mozart's String Quartet in G major, K. 387, one of a number of such works that Mozart wrote in response to Haydn's Op. 33 quartets of 1781. Like the music of the Mannheim composers that had similarly inspired Mozart, Haydn's quartets represented a leap forward in the form, which in his hands became a musical conversation among equals.
The conversation in Mozart's G major quartet is both amiable and lively, and the Jerusalem Quartet's performance emphasized the individuality of each voice. Mozart gave the second violin much to do, and second violinist Sergei Bresler rose to the occasion; while violist Ori Kam, the newest member, displayed a strikingly rich tone in his parts: full-voiced and well-shaped, with a sound that Mozart, who himself preferred playing viola in chamber works, would have applauded.
The music of Erwin Schulhoff, a highly gifted Czech composer who was murdered by the Nazis, is heard with increasing frequency of late. His Five Pieces for String Quartet demonstrate why. At once challenging and exciting for both players and listeners, the five dance-inspired movements make great virtuosic demands on the ensemble, while expanding the artistic breadth of the dances well beyond their café origins.
The Jerusalem Quartet was superlative here, meeting Schulhoff's considerable demands with ease and aplomb. Especially effective was the fourth piece, Alla Tango Milonga, which, despite its gentle tango rhythm, was emotionally miles away from Argentina. The quartet played this sad little essay in longing with such feeling that the effect was magical.
Composers such as Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms, following upon the architectural monuments of Beethoven's string quartets, took a more symphonic approach to their own quartets, retaining the contrapuntal subtleties of the Classical era but putting the emphasis on the musical argument. Schumann's String Quartet in A major, Op 41 No, 3, exemplified this aptly.
It also afforded the Jerusalem Quartet the chance to display a protean ability to inhabit disparate sound-worlds. In their hands, Schumann's quartet was lively and sonically rich, and thanks to their cohesive approach (and no-nonsense tempos), played out rather like a single-movement work with four discrete sections.
The audience applauded long enough for the quartet to return with an encore, which in this case was the slow movement from Debussy's Quartet in G minor, rendered with such tonal sensitivity that it seemed a shame that the entire work was not being played.