Tuesday 11 February 2014

Surely some of the finest performances of Janáček’s Quartets from the Jerusalem Quartet on a new release from Harmonia Mundi

The Jerusalem Quartet www.jerusalem-quartet.com was founded in 1993. From 1999 to 2001 the Quartet were BBC New Generation Artists and, in 2003, the recipient of the fist Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award. They continue to perform at major venues throughout the world. The Jerusalem Quartet’s members are Alexander Pavlovsky (violin), Sergei Bresler (violin), Ori Kam (viola) and Kyril Zlotnikov (cello).

First violinist of Quartet, Alexander Pavlovsky, a graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and winner of the Ilona Kornhauser Award and first prize of the Braun-Roger-Ziegel National Competition, has given master classes at the Royal Academy of Music in London, National Academy of Music in Melbourne and Sydney Conservatorium, Zeist Chamber Music Course in the Netherlands and Valladolid Auditorium in Spain. Since 2008 he has been a faculty member at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Pavlovsky plays a J.F.Pressenda violin dating from 1824, lent by the Jerusalem Pressenda Syndicate.

Violinist, Sergei Bresler was born in Ukraine in 1978 and started to play violin from the age of five with Professor A Leschinsky, giving his first recital at the age of twelve. In 1991, he emigrated to Israel where he continued his studies in the Jerusalem Rubin Music Conservatory with Professor M Liberman and, later, with Haim Taub. Bresler has given master classes in many venues such as the Royal Academy of Music in London, Sydney Conservatory, Melbourne Australian Academy of Music, Cleveland Institute of Music and the Jerusalem Music Centre. Bresler plays on a 1770 Lorenzo Storioni violin lent by the America-Israel Culture Foundation, donated to the Foundation by Isaac Stern.

Violist Ori Kam was born in California and grew up between the United States and Israel. He started his musical Education at the age of six and began playing the viola at fifteen, studying in Israel with Chaim Taub and, later, with Pinchas Zukerman and Patinka Kopec at the Manhattan School of Music in New York. Kam has been the winner of several awards and prizes including The Swiss Prize at the Geneva International Music Competition, The "Paganini" Prize in the International Lionel Tertis Competition and the winner of the 1995 Concerto Competition at the Manhattan School of Music. Kam is now on the faculty of the Geneva University of Music. Kam plays a viola made in 2009 by Hiroshi Iizuka.

Cellist Kyril Zlotnikov was born in Minsk, Belarus and began his studies at the Belarusian State Music Academy with Professor Vladimir Perlin. He continued his studies in Israel with Professor Uzi Wiesel and Hillel Zori, completing his musical education under the direction of Professor Michael Khomitzer at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy of Music and Dance. He has won a number of prizes including the Clairmont Competition, the Braun-Roger Siegl Competition and the Pierre Tarcali Prize. Zlotnikov enjoys an artistic collaboration with conductor Daniel Barenboim having, since 2003, been a principal cellist and a teacher of the cello group at the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and has recorded the complete Mozart piano trios with Daniel Barenboim and Nikolaj Znaider. Zlotnikov plays a 1710 Giovanni Battista Ruggieri cello which is loaned to him from a private collection.

The Jerusalem Quartet www.jerusalem-quartet.com  record exclusively for Harmonia Mundi www.harmoniamundi.com  who have just released their recording of Janacek’s two string quartets coupled with Smetana’s first string quartet.
HMC 902178

Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884) wrote his String Quartet No.1 in E minor ‘Z mého života’ (From My Life) towards the end of 1876. He wrote that he had no intention of writing a quartet according to ‘the customary formulas’ and that for him the design of the quartet would depend on its subject. The subject for each movement would be (1) Youth, (2) A Polka reminding him of the dance music he wrote in his youth, (3) First love and (4) His joy in nationalistic music and onset of deafness.

The opening Allegro vivo appassionato immediately seems to connect the two composers on this disc, gritty and passionate in the repeated rhythms. The Jerusalem Quartet, who have a beautifully transparent sound, also bring a rather Dvorakian flow and melody as well as tension and drama. They provide a terrific Allegro moderato a la Polka, with each player responding to each other with such taut playing. There is a brilliantly done trio section with its strange slow dance.

With the Largo Sostenuto there is a lovely rich, deep opening from the cello before the hushed beauty of this Largo arrives with fine control of rubato, drawing exquisite poetry from this music, finely controlled and paced, full of power and emotion. The bright, joyful Vivace is all that in the Jerusalem’s hands with, again, the Quartet members responding so well to each other. There is some terrific playing as the music heads to its dramatic later stages where doubt seems to hit Smetana and the movement quietens with a subdued coda.

Leoŝ Janáček (1854-1928) wrote both of his string quartets during his prolific late period. The String Quartet No.1 ‘Kreutzer Sonata’, dating from 1923, was inspired by Tolstoy’s novel ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’, a story of passionate love, jealousy, violence and eventual murder.

In the opening Adagi  Con moto, Janáček’s harmonies show how, by 1923, he had developed from both his own early style and that of Smetana. The Jerusalem Quartet bring so much feeling of angst to the music and handle the sudden changes of tempo and dynamics so well, revealing so much of Janáček’s unique expression of emotion. The seemingly innocent opening bars of the second movement Con moto are soon broken up to bring ghostly echoes of some emotional tragedy. I don’t think I’ve heard this movement done better. There is some terrific playing in the ghostly string harmonics.

The sad tune that opens Con moto. Vivo. Andante is soon interrupted by the rapid wiry phrases brilliantly played by this quartet. Even Janáček’s slow movements never seem to avoid violent emotions. All the subtle little interruptions of the lovely, slow quiet theme are beautifully handled. The finale Con moto. (Adagio). Più mosso opens quietly and gently, something this Quartet do so well, with the melody subtly shifting from sweet to bittersweet and back again. The Quartet builds the tension and passion to perfection. This is fine playing indeed with these players really throwing themselves into this music that is only just resolved at the end.

This is surely one of the finest performances of this quartet yet recorded.

Janáček’s String Quartet No.2 ‘Intimate Letters’ from 1928 relates to a more personal passion, that of his unrequited love of a much younger woman, Kamilla Stoesslová, a one sided love affair conducted through letters.

There is little calm in the first movement opening of the Andante. Con moto. Allegro, the drama is there immediately. The drama and urgency is captured so well by the Jerusalem Quartet, not just the obvious emotional thrust but the subtle little, haunting quieter moments. Their passionate playing is never strident, beautifully done. In the Adagio. Vivace, calm seems to infuse the adagio’s bittersweet melody, so emotionally played that it becomes heart rending. As the music becomes more impassioned, the almost schizophrenic mood changes are wonderfully handled and what a finely judged coda they provide.

A swaying, whimsical; melody hovering on the edge of peace and tragedy infuses the third movement Moderato. Andante. Adagio with the Jerusalems handling this multi-faceted, schizophrenic music so well. If Janáček’s own mood swings were so rapid and complex, it is a disturbing thought. Just when the final Adagio seems to hold the calm mood, there is a sudden outburst to end. The rhythmic finale Allegro. Andante. Adagio seems almost jolly but there is a menace to it before it quietens. As one follows Janáček’s every move and emotion, one tends to take the Jerusalem Quartet’s vital playing for granted, surely a tribute to their fine musicianship. The strangely haunting passages are brilliantly done, with an exquisite hushed section part way through and such a passionate coda. Another terrific performance.

The recording from the Teldex Studio, Berlin is exceptional and there are informative booklet notes.

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