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Ensemble Music opens season with Jerusalem Quartet

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The Jerusalem Quartet
  • The Jerusalem Quartet

Just as the symphony has been the premiere form for absolute orchestral music, the string quartet has dominated chamber music, both forms having sprung to life in the Classical era of the 18th century (Haydn having a lot do with both).   A fully crowded Indiana History Center's Basile Theater hosted three repertoire quartets, played by the Jerusalem Quartet, making its Indianapolis debut.  One string quartet each by Beethoven, Ravel and Brahms respectively comprised their program.

First violinist Alexander Pavlovsky, second violinist Sergei Bresler, violist Ori Kam and cellist Kyril Zlotnikov began their program with Beethoven's Quartet No. 5 in A, the fifth of the Bonn master's six first quartets, all published as Op. 18.   It was probably no accident that this work was patterned after Mozart's fifth of the six quartets he had dedicated to Haydn, also in A, K. 464, written 13 years earlier.

Though the Jerusalem played well together dynamically, that sense of ensemble was missing, especially at first when Pavlovsky's vibrato was nervously fast as compared with his cohorts.   Pavlovsky blended better in the second movement (a "menuetto"), though the ensemble continued to lack perfection in that category.  In the ensuing "Theme and Variations" movement, the group's sustained notes failed to blend into a cohesive, single, "super" instrument (an ideal which very few visiting quartets achieve).  The Finale, an "Allegro" saw the group improve their ensemble blend.  Perhaps they had "warmed up."

Ravel's only string quartet, that in F (1903), provided an idiom showcasing the Jerusalem group at their best, and offered us the high point of the evening.  They at once seemed to gel with those pastel harmonies underlaying Ravel's impressionistic lines.  Zlotnikov' cello work especially shone in the dour third movement, marked "Très lent," where he had an expansive solo.  The group managed the many complex metrical shifts in the fourth movement with ease and aplomb.

Brahms' three quartets do not constitute his best chamber music, as exemplified by his No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 51 No. 2.  As with most works Brahms released for publication, this one excels in craftsmanship -- but lags in inspiration.  Lasting a good half hour, it lacks arresting thematic material that engages one in the guts; the writing seems excessively discursive throughout.  Yes, it has its piquant moments, but they don't last long enough before we are back into discursion.

For those who better respond to this work, the Jerusalem Quartet gave it their best, and that best was good indeed.  Oct. 15; Indiana History Center

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