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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
String Quartet in A minor, op.51 no.2 [32:38]
Clarinet Quintet in B minor, op.115 [38:22]
Sharon Kam (clarinet)
Jerusalem Quartet (Alexander Pavlovsky, Sergei Bresler, Ori Kam, Kyril Zlotnikov)
rec. Teldex Studio, Berlin, June 2012.
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 902152 [55:03]
 
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Quartet in E flat, op.47 [14:53]
Piano Quintet in E flat, op.44
Alexander Melnikov (piano)
Jerusalem Quartet (Alexander Pavlovsky, Sergei Bresler, Ori Kam, Kyril Zlotnikov)
rec. Teldex Studio, Berlin, July 2011.
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 902122 [54:56]

Mindless middle-class trouble-makers hassling musicians in the art music domain? On an almost daily basis? Seems unlikely, yet not if the musicians have an Israeli background like the Jerusalem Quartet. That is sufficient grounds for pro-Palestinian protesters constantly to pursue them and attempt to disrupt their performances, as infamously happened last year at London's Wigmore Hall, (almost) live on BBC Radio 3. The argument, such as it is, holds Israeli musicians responsible for the actions and human rights abuses of their government. Yet the sheer perversity of anti-Zionist demonstrators is evidenced by the fact that the Jersualems' co-starring pianist Alexander Melnikov, born in Russia - widely cited by NGOs and states for human rights transgressions and authoritarianism - is free to perform virtually anywhere - Chechnya excepted, perhaps - without disruption or aspersion. Ditto, for example, so many Chinese musicians.
 
Happily, the Jerusalem Quartet are at least safer and freer in the recording studio, and the results, as these two most recent additions to their growing discography reveal, are very satisfying. Though this is decidedly not the best of times to release yet more recordings of these four works from the very centre of the chamber repertoire, such professional, attractive performances will always find approval and a home on the shelves of at least some collectors. For who can resist the exquisite slow movement of Schumann's piano quartet or the sheer joie de vivre of the opening or close of the quintet? What heart can deny the sublime lyricism of Brahms's clarinet quintet?
 
For the earlier Schumann disc the Jerusalems teamed up with Harmonia Mundi protégé Melnikov, both an exciting soloist and a chamber player of some experience. On paper, this combination looks a sure thing, but the reality is a little more nuanced. For one thing, audio quality is not ideal, but actually rather fluorescent - almost to the point of sounding raw, in fact. Moreover, the Jerusalems and Melnikov seem to hold each other back somewhat, rather than give each other greater impetus as might be expected. This produces a performance which is detailed, thorough and broadly handsome, but one with little clarity of vision. Certainly not one to value over many others already available. Schumann must be one of the most frequently 'under-emphasised' - or over-burnished - composers of all. These accounts, though impressive on many levels, are broadly of that ilk.
 
For all his talent, Melnikov's style is possibly a little too different from the Quartet's to make an ideal playing partner. For their latest Brahms disc he has gone and clarinettist Sharon Kam, sister of the Quartet's violist, has come. Arguably, however, the Quartet is at its best without additions, when their twenty years' knowledge of each other's modi operandi, strengths and foibles comes into its own. That is certainly the case in the A minor quartet, where they are the epitome of Brahmsian classicism, stylish and composed. Or is simply it that Brahms was a greater composer than Schumann? For even when joined by Kam for the magnificent clarinet quintet, the solo-quartet blend is that bit more satisfying than on the Schumann disc. Sound is better here too: still bright, still rather unromantic, but certainly good enough for all but the strictest tastes.
 
HM's glossy trilingual booklets focus on style. Roman Hinke's notes are Teutonically pleonastic and melodramatic - describing Brahms, for instance, as a "young firebrand" and "young daredevil" - but relevant information is there for those prepared to filter. Biographies are bland: Kam is "a lover of chamber music" who has been praised as "a most imaginative and individual artist". The Jerusalem Quartet, photographed so as to look like fashion models, are rendered inanimate: "began its training", "in the United States, where it is increasingly present" and so on. These recordings, however, show them to be strong, lusty advocates of immortal music.
 
Byzantion
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