Another 'greatest' quartet

By Tom Aldridge

November 10, 2016

A capacity Basile Theater in the Indiana History Center witnessed a totally professional ensemble--from the word "go." When the Israeli based Jerusalem String Quartet--first violinist Alexander Pavlovsky, second violinist Sergei Bresler, violist Ori Kam and cellist Kyril Zlotnikov--began with Haydn's Quartet in D, Op. 64 No. 5 ("Lark"), there was no lack of precision as there often is when a Haydn Quartet is the opener. This is the Jerusalem's second visit here, having appeared in 2014. 

Indeed the Haydn was played with the balance and precision usually heard in the featured quartet, in this case Beethoven's Quartet No. 7 in F, Op. 59 No. 1 (Rasumovsky). In between those two, we heard the Quartet No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 50, of Prokofiev. 

Haydn's "Lark" quartet is one of six he wrote in 1790, appearing shortly before his first trip to London. Beautiful is an apt description for this one. All four movements shone like burnished copper, with equal contributions by composer and performers. 

The Prokofiev, its world premiere in Washington D.C. in 1931, is the first of two in the genre, neither one of which is especially popular. Its three movements have a tonal center but with wide ranging harmonies conveying a sense of "wrong notes" scattered among the phrases. Nonetheless, its excellent playing provided a few quivers for my gut. 

Beethoven's Op. 59 No.1 is the first of three quartets dedicated to Count Rasumovsky and the first of five comprising his so-called "middle" period of quartet writing. It has its counterpart in his "Eroica" Symphony: longest quartet written to that point, greatly expanded first movement sonata form with an extended development. Its third movement, marked Adagio molto e mesto, comes close to forecasting Romantic writing. 

The Jerusalem players wove their way through the movements until, suddenly Bresler's bow tip broke halfway through the fourth movement. The music stopped while Bresler went backstage to effect a replacement. A resumption of playing a bit before they left off was done with aplomb. 

In deference to those quartets which can play with their vibratos in perfect sync, the Jerusalem either does not or cannot. What makes it more audible in their case is that all four members play with a rich, well controlled vibrato--all at slightly different speeds. Consider this caveat to be a mild one. Nov. 9

—Tom Aldridge