The Jerusalem Quartet has assembled an impressive discography for Harmonia
Mundi, the label for which they record exclusively, and their discs have
garnered much praise. The breadth of their recorded repertoire is
wide-ranging, including Haydn, Mozart, Brahms, Dvořák, Smetana, Janáč ek
and Shostakovich. I'm only familiar with the 2004 release of the Haydn
Quartets Opp. 64 no. 5, 76 no. 2 and 77 no 1 (HMC901823). I find the
Jerusalem's performances spirited and full of personality. Now it is
tackling Beethoven, and I hope that this new release of the Op. 18 String
Quartets will be the beginning of a complete cycle.
Although Beethoven was heavily indebted to Haydn and Mozart, whose
quartets he must have known, in the six Op. 18 Quartets he begins to find
his own voice whilst, at the same time, utilizing some of the conventions of
the eighteenth century. By the next set, the revolutionary Op. 59, that
unique voice would be firmly established.
The F major Quartet was the second of the set to be composed, but placed
first when published by Beethoven himself. A larger-scaled work than no. 3,
it has greater emotional range and impact. The Jerusalem Quartet, has,
unusually, maintained the chronological sequence in this recording, and uses
modern instruments, which suits me down to the ground.
The quartet confer a Haydnesque charm on the F major and G major works.
The playing has personality, elegance and refinement and a certain suavity.
Phrasing and articulation is instinctive and intuitive, and great attention
is paid to detail. Nothing is forced, everything emerges naturally with
spontaneity and freshness. The slow movements are expressive and lyrical
and, in the G major especially, there is a heartfelt tenderness. The
Scherzos are rhythmically buoyant and exuberant, and the finales are affable
and delivered with polish and refinement.
The C minor is my favourite of the set. The dark, brooding opening
movement has tension and dramatic intent and, in this quartet's hands, is
quite unsettling. I particularly like the driven quality the quartet brings
to the music. The Andante scherzoso
is delicately articulated,
nicely paced and relieves the tension somewhat. We return to a dark restless
mood in the Minuetto
, and the trio's syncopations are invigorating.
The finale is playful, sprightly and tongue-in-cheek, with a real gypsy
If Beethoven gives a reverential nod to Haydn in the first two quartets,
no. 5 gains its inspiration from Mozart's quartet in the same key K.
464. The first movement is both bold and athletic, with the spotlight on the
first violin for much of the time. Alexander Pavlovsky acquits himself
admirably with panache and flawless intonation. Throughout the movement
there is a congeniality of sprit. In the third movement Andante
the variations are well-characterized, and in the finale the contrapuntal
writing is delineated with pristine clarity, and dispatched with fire and
I'm very taken by the warm, intimate acoustic of the Teldex Studios,
Berlin, and the superb instrumental balance struck. It is hard to believe
that the group have been playing together since 1993, and on the evidence of
this they are team players par excellence. If this, as I hope, is the first
instalment of a complete cycle, then the omens look favourable indeed.