Jerusalem String Quartet & Martin Fröst

Quartettsatz in C minor, D703
String Quartet No.7 in F sharp minor, Op.108
Clarinet Quintet in A, K581

Jerusalem String Quartet [Alexander Pavlovsky & Sergei Bresler (violins), Amihai Grosz (viola) & Kyril Zlotnikov (cello)]

Martin Fröst (clarinet)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 13 November, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

It was standing room only in the Wigmore Hall for the evidently popular Jerusalem String Quartet, and after this generous programme it was easy to see how the quartet has acquired a reputation as one of the best around of the younger generation, helped by its contribution to the Shostakovich series at the same venue earlier this year.

Joining the Jerusalem for Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet was Martin Fröst, himself a burgeoning young virtuoso who premiered Kalevi Aho’s Concerto in April this year. For the quintet he sat slightly further forward than his accomplices but was aloof in position only, the communication among the five clearly in evidence.

After the sunny, hymn-like opening from the quartet, the clarinet and strings played up their more dramatic exchanges in the first movement’s development, each phrase given great care and attention. Even when Fröst was merely supplying decorative counterpoint, his tone was never less than beautiful, while the strings brought a bright texture even to the darker first Trio that contrasts with the third-movement Minuet, sensitively holding back for the clarinet’s return.

Fröst came into his own in the serene slow movement, finding a pure, hushed tone, and in the contrasting variations with which a playful Mozart ends the work. These were a delight, particularly Amihai Grosz’s soft-toned viola contribution to the third one and the game-play between first violinist Alexander Pavlovsky and Fröst as they sought to outdo each other in the fourth. It was an honourable draw, but Fröst’s cantabile in the following variation typified a wonderfully sculpted closing movement.

Preceding this was dramatic Shostakovich, the composer’s shortest work in the medium lighting the blue-touch paper in a ferocious fugal section in the final movement, the musicians somehow staying together at a challenging tempo. This contrasted perfectly with the strangely haunting passages of pizzicato and furtive bow strokes, the music unable to settle fully. In the Lento meanwhile, Kyril Zlotnikov’s cello and Grosz’s viola were perfectly attuned in their elegiac second theme.

Zlotnikov was also excellent in a vibrant but anxious reading of Schubert’s self-contained string quartet movement, the first of a projected full-length work. The Jerusalem took off at quite a lick but still served a demonstration of the musicians’ lucid sound. Again, the players’ communication and evident enjoyment were strong features, though the heavy vibrato of the early bars might be considered over-crystallized. This was a fine reading nonetheless, with near faultless playing throughout, in a recital of an extremely high musical and technical standard.

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