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Jerusalem Quartet soars in Cleveland Chamber Music Society's new home

By Donald Rosenberg

Hooray for the Cleveland Chamber Music Society -- and everyone else who savors music-making of intimate magnetism. After too many years enduring the acoustical haze of Fairmount Temple Auditorium in Beachwood, the society this season has taken up residence in the crystal-clear sonic environment of Plymouth Church in Shaker Heights.

Listeners no longer will scratch their heads figuring out what the musicians are trying to impart. The days of distant performances are gone. In the sanctuary at Plymouth Church, the artists are so close to the audience that every detail can be discerned.

The Jerusalem Quartet had the honor of providing the details Tuesday to open the society's 63rd season. In its fifth appearance in the series, the ensemble lavished scrupulous attention on music by Mozart, Shostakovich and Brahms, with a bit of Debussy for dessert.

So many excellent string quartets are active today that you might wonder why the society keeps engaging the Jerusalem. Then the musicians begin to play and you surrender to the intensity, sensitivity and sheer beauty of the performances.

Tuesday's program may not have won awards in the adventure department, but it did present the Jerusalem in diverse styles. The concert also introduced the audience to the ensemble's splendid new violist, Ori Kam, who applied noble definition to whatever he touched.

The individuality of voices that is a hallmark of the Jerusalem can partly be ascribed to its seating, with violins sitting across from one another, the cello next to the first violin and the viola next to the second. The arrangement had a beneficial effect on all of the night's scores, especially the opening work, Mozart's Quartet in B-flat major, K. 589.

At turns graceful and dramatic, the interpretation vividly acknowledged Mozart's swift changes of mood and harmony. Cellist Kyril Zlotnikov brought eloquent shading to the solo that opens the slow movement and elsewhere vividly shared material with his impeccable colleagues, Kam and violinists Alexander Pavlovsky and Sergei Bresler.

The group has played music by Shostakovich here before, and it was a pleasure to hear the players inhabit the Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor, Op. 108, on this occasion. From the ironies and disembodied gestures of the first two movements to the finale's fugal ferocity and eerie waltz, this was a performance of penetrating character.

A similar ability to tap into expressive extremes pervaded the Jerusalem's account of Brahms' Quartet No. 3 in B-flat major, Op. 67. The musicians solved the composer's rhythmic puzzles with elegant ease and heightened emotional contrasts to rapturous and mysterious effect.

For something completely different (and exquisite), the ensemble offered the slow movement from Debussy's Quartet in G minor as an encore. No one is likely to be disappointed if/when the Jerusalem makes a sixth appearance in the society's series.

October 10, 2012

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