surprising that a young string quartet should
pack out the Wigmore on a Monday lunchtime,
but the Jerusalem Quartet have obviously gathered
quite a following. Founded in 1993, the quartet
won the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award, 2003.
The prize includes concerts in London and
Amsterdam with Mitsuko Uchida.
Jerusalem Quartet has many qualities. It plays
with great vitality and ensures that the entire
dynamic range is used – here is, indeed, the
full enthusiasm of youth. So pianissimi are
real pianissimi, and they can play with all
the élan this music requires.
coupling of Beethoven’s D major Quartet, Op.
18 No. 3 and Shostakovich’s Ninth was an interesting
one. The Beethoven quartet (which dates from
1798) suited the Jerusalem Quartet well, although
initial doubts as to first violinist Alexander
Pavlovsky’s tone and tuning were to reappear
during the course of the performance. It was
in the inner parts that the most impressive
elements of this account lay in the intertwining
of lines and in the instrumental dialogues.
A pity the tempo of the second movement was
just under the ‘con moto’ qualifier of the
Andante, as there was evidence of a resolute
refusal to be somnambulistic. Just that tiny
bit more movement would have brought the experience
fully to life.
it was that the quartet had warmed up for
the last two movements or not, there is no
denying that there was more to admire in the
latter half of Beethoven’s quartet. The dark
Trio contrasted perfectly with the sharply
etched accents of the Scherzo while the Haydnesque
cheek and forward energy of the finale still
contained space for the music to breathe.
Wigmore audience was perhaps not prepared
for the concentrated intimacy and sometimes
stark experimentalism of Shostakovich’s Ninth
Quartet as there was a fair amount of shuffling,
some talking and even some snoring going on.
A pity as this can hardly be classed as ‘modern’
music these days (in fact it was hardly cutting-edge
modernism when it was written, in 1964). Perhaps
it was the undeniably disturbing aspects of
the music that were the problem – one could
imagine Shostakovich himself being happy that
this has not become ‘easy’ music in any way.
The Jerusalem Quartet certainly did not treat
it as such, mercilessly projecting the restless
obsessions that lie at the core of the opening
Moderato con moto. The dislocated jauntiness
in a movement that is incapable of standing
still led to an Adagio where, despite well
projected voila playing the quartet found
it hard to sustain the soul-bared stasis.
It was in the fourth movement (another Adagio)
that Shostakovich is at his most daring, a
sort of naked repose that certainly seemed
to unnerve this audience – the disjunct pizzicato
lines were almost too much to bear.
finale gave good contrast, it could perhaps
have demonstrated more violence. The music
speaks of the emotional pain of late Beethoven,
an intensity the Jerusalem Quartet was keen
to project, particularly in the fugal passages.
Rightly, risks were taken. Not all of them
came off, but that is the price, and the excitement,
of real live performance.
encore, the Largo sostenuto from Smetana’s
First String Quartet was a lovely, and substantial,