15 May, 2011

Concert Review: Jupiter String Quartet

Concert Review: Jupiter String Quartet

May 14, 2011, Washington Irving High School
Jupiter String Quartet-Menahem Pressler

We seem to be living in an age with an endless supply of accomplished young chamber ensembles. Personally I think on the average today's string quartet is better than yesteryear's. After hearing the wonderful Parker String Quartet, I was eager to hear the slightly more senior Jupiter String Quartet, and I was not disappointed.

In this somewhat larger hall and sitting further away, the Jupiter had a very different sonority from the Parker. A less dominant first violin, a greater sheen and perhaps more sophisticated ensemble marked this winsome quartet. The first two movements of Beethoven's Op 59/1, played with unanimity and astonishing dynamic turns, showcased their finest quality. No matter whether it was a whisper or a big fortissimo, the sound remained seamlessly integrated, nuanced and unforced, remarkable indeed. The playing in the slow movement was unusually finely detailed, bringing it closer to Beethoven's late works, but a little more episodic. Here, as in the last movement, the first violinist Nelson Lee was less than steady and I was distracted.

Then came Kurtag's 12 Microludes, the same work played by the Parker Quartet. Where else but in NYC do you get to hear a modern work like this twice in one month? And it was interesting because the Jupiter's more finely spun sound and gentler treatment brought a more sophisticated dimension to the work. Wonderful!

The quartet was joined by Menahem Pressler in the second half for the Schumann Piano Quintet, one of my favorite works. The string playing was well nigh perfect but I have to confess that I did not manage to enjoy the pianist. Despite accolades galore, on records I have never taken to the smoothness of the Beaux Arts Trio. Here, the playing of Pressler was quite generalized and devoid of detail and attack. The piano sound was also strangely muted. Well, Pressler is in his eighties now...

Jupiter String Quartet official page

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