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Jerusalem Quartet and Schubert's Maiden

available at Amazon
Schubert, Quartettsatz / Der Tod und das Mädchen, Jerusalem Quartet

(released May 13, 2008)
Harmonia Mundi HMC 901990

Online scores:
D. 703 | D. 810
Ever since the Jerusalem Quartet's exquisite Shostakovich recordings hit our ears, Ionarts has been ardently following the young Israeli ensemble's career. Just about everything they have performed here in Washington has been glowingly received, in concerts at JCCGW, the Library of Congress (sadly interrupted), and the Terrace Theater. Just when you thought that people should stop recording something as familiar as Schubert's most popular quartets, the Jerusalems' new disc of nos. 12 and 14 shows that the best performers prove the invalidity of such assumptions. This disc may not demand that someone who already owns one or two recordings of the Death and the Maiden quartet also buy this one, but it stands out as an exceptionally fine performance.

The so-called Quartettsatz, the C minor fragment Schubert managed to finish of what would have been his twelfth string quartet, is played with anxious tension in the agitated opening theme. At the same time there is an admirable dolce restraint to the pianissimo sections, especially the pizzicati of Kyril Zlotnikov, playing the Sergio Perresson cello formerly owned by Jacqueline du Pré and on loan from her husband Daniel Barenboim. The modified sonata form of this solitary movement has an interesting reversal of themes in the recapitulation, which begins by restating the second theme (the one stated first in A-flat major, part of the bridge to the theme in the dominant) in B-flat major and moving to a seemingly typical resolution of the second theme in C major. Only then does the restless C minor theme that opened the movement, so far omitted in the recapitulation, return to unsettle things in the coda. (The group does not attempt to play any of Schubert's sketch of the incomplete second movement.)

Schubert's penultimate attempt in the string quartet genre, D. 810 in D minor, is no less complicated formally in its meaty first movement. It has thematic groups in D minor and F major, only to end the exposition strongly in A minor. The recapitulation moves through the same sections in the same order, with a shift from D minor to D major and ultimately to B-flat major, oddly, which in a flash turns to the D minor conclusion, in parallel to the movement from A major to minor at the end of the exposition. The enigmatic, dissonant coda seals the conclusion in D minor, with a slow slackening of the pace to a steady pulse. That sets up the second movement, an extensive set of variations, on the composer's own gloomy setting of Matthias Claudius's poem Der Tod und das Mädchen, in the second movement. That song's dialogue, between a frightened girl and the comforting voice of Death, is captured in the cover art, a salient detail from Gustav Klimt's La mort et la vie.

The first violin of Alexander Pavlovsky is forceful (not forced) when needed, but he also knows how to remove himself from the texture to allow the other parts to emerge without straining. The third movement's dust-winged trio, in the parallel major, evaporates almost immediately from the middle of the diminutive scherzo. The fourth movement is taut and fleet, only to be capped by a breath-taking prestissimo coda, a tour de force recording all in all. The Jerusalem Quartet will play again in the Washington area this spring, returning to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (April 26, 2009, 7:30 pm) as part of a U.S. tour. The program is not announced yet, but we hope it will include some Schubert.


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