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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartets: D, Op. 64 No. 5, ‘The Lark’ (1790) [19’47]; D minor, Op. 76 No. 2, ‘Fifths’ (1796) [22’24]; G, Op. 77 No. 1, ‘Lobkowitz’ (1799) [23’43].
Jerusalem Quartet (Alexander Pavlovsky, Sergei Bresler, violins; Amichai Grosz, viola; Kyril Zlotnikov, cello)
Rec. Vereenidge Doopsgezinde Gemeente, Haarlem, The Netherlands, Apr 2003. DDD
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC901823 [66’15]


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The Jerusalem Quartet recently gave a stimulating BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at the Wigmore Hall () All boded (generally) well for this full-price release of three ‘named’ Haydn quartets, therefore.

Actually, the disc is substantially ahead of expectations. Aided by an exemplary recording – clear, detailed, close but not too close – the Jerusalem Quartet makes the best case for all three pieces. The first idea of the ‘Lark’ is most attractive. It actually turns out to be the accompaniment to the first violin’s soaring figure, sweetly rendered here by Alexander Pavlovsky. Throughout this movement (and the disc as a whole for that matter) there is some very suave phrasing, while on the technical side all is safe. The Jerusalem Quartet conveys Haydn’s exuberance of invention as well as displaying plenty of the youthful vigour I commented on in their Wigmore recital; try the way they dig into the Menuetto of the ‘Lark’. The quartet catches the ‘singing’ (cantabile) element of the slow movement of this quartet most beautifully and the richness of tone at around 2’35 is most welcome. The finale is – rightly- vivace as marked and not presto, whatever the temptation might have been to scamper along remorselessly. It is thus fully consistent with the reading and, furthermore, is pure delight (the finale to the ‘Lobkowitz’ provides similar titillation).

The ‘Fifths’ Quartet rightly deserves its name. The interval permeates the material from the very opening bars. The Jerusalem Quartet makes it perfectly obvious here that this is another side of Haydn’s coin, more resolute and determined than Op. 64 No. 5. The players are certainly not afraid to project the rawness of emotion (no pussy-footing around here) and the tension does not drop for a second (especially commendable in the development). Here, especially, the recording quality impressed. The reverb level is perfectly set so there is just the right amount of ambience, yet all detail comes through easily. The reading’s intent is surely to bring out Haydn’s earthiness – the Trio of the third movement is positively thigh-slapping in its Lederhosenishness.

The late Op. 77/1 (dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz, who also commissioned Beethoven’s Op. 18) is a magnificent piece and the Jerusalem Quartet allocates it its full weight, especially in the intense yet ultimately peaceful Adagio. A quartet of contrasts in the Jerusalem’s eyes, the Menuetto is truly Presto, shifting uneasily in its headlong trajectory.

This is a magnificent disc from a young quartet that surely has a glowing future ahead of it. True, the evidence is that they thrive on recording as opposed to live performance, but I for one will be tracking their development carefully.

Colin Clarke

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