Last evening, Friends of Chamber Music, Denver patrons were treated to a tremendous program performed by The Jerusalem Quartet.  While the cellist lives in Lisbon, Portugal, they do claim Israel as their home.  One member repeated that Israel is a “very special place.” The program consisted of a Haydn Quartet (Opus #77 No.1 in G flat major, Bartok’s String Quartet #5, and Dvorak’s String Quartet in F Major, Opus #96,  “The American.” The Haydn tempered the older crowd with one of Haydn’s many string quartets.  The #77, one of his later works, is filled with ornamentation.  The Adagio was so moving, it was revived as the musician’s encore.

The Bartok is symmetrical in its structure with the energetic Scherzo: alla bulgarese placed in the center of the five movements.  Movements two and four are lyrical and thus considerably slower and sweeter than movements one, three and five.  This listener of the Jerusalem Quartet’s performance of the piece, composed in 1934, was reminded of jazz and the contradictions of that decade.  Dissonance collided with sweet Hungarian melodies as if to remind us that memory is not all sweet.  Kyril Zlotnikov, cellist, Sergei Bresler, violinist, Ori Kam, violist, and Alexander Pavlovsky, violinist, did tremendous service to shaping the piece into a memorable performance.  I was completely surprised to hear that this was their first performance of the Bartok quartet. Alexander admitted that it was a difficult piece to master. Master it, they did.

The Dvorak was my favorite quartet of the night and the audience’s too. The standing ovation only abated with the Haydn encore.  The title  of “The American” refers to the summers that Dvorak spent in Spillville, Iowa.  He felt his moments in the country returned him to his home.  The melodies were evocative of American folk song.  Another audience member claimed the music recalled bird songs.  I wondered if Aaron Copland had been influenced by the work.  Dvorak’s string quartets add so much to a quartet’s repertoire but after hearing two quartets by the composer in a single week, I admit that I might have enjoyed the pieces to be performed rather by a full orchestra.

It is important to consider the exposure of a string quartet member’s talent.  There is no hiding. Collaboration is key and these musicians seemed completely aware of when another member drew in a breath.  By being an international quartet, the instruments are exposed to constant changing climates.  Colorado’s dry air added another complication to the performance.  While Kyril complained that his cello was not at its best, not a member of the audience at Gates Hall at DU’s Newman Center noticed.  Audiences continued clapping until the house lights lit up the Hall.

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