Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly said that the ensemble played Shostakovich’s eighth quartet. It was the ninth quartet. This version has been corrected.
Political protests have dogged the Jerusalem String Quartet because of its association with the armed forces of its native Israel, including at a 2007 concert at the Library of Congress. Perhaps by going outside Washington, to the partially filled Barns at Wolf Trap on Friday night, the group avoided such trouble. Foreign policy grumblings, if there were any, vanished when the group played quartets by Beethoven, Debussy and Shostakovich.
This fine quartet, formed in 1993 when the members were conservatory students in Jerusalem, has made a series of recordings for Harmonia Mundi, none better than a pair of discs of Shostakovich quartets. No surprise, then, that Shostakovich’s ninth quartet stood out on this program, too, for the vigor of the interpretation, which kept one on the edge of one’s seat, and the overall quality of playing from all four musicians in dazzling coordination.
The mood swung back and forth from a glowing lament in the second movement to an airheaded gallop in the third and back to mournful tension in the fourth. The fifth movement, which brings the themes back together, was a tour de force of biting tone and rhythmic precision.
Tuning issues plagued the first work, Beethoven’s Op. 18, No. 2, with an over-agitated approach to the first movement balanced by a tuneful second, more bright than strident. The third and fourth movements, where the energy was mollified into bouncy fun, worked the best. Careful tuning at the interval improved the intonation in the work that followed, Debussy’s G Minor quartet, rendered not as a work of evanescent color but as surprisingly muscular music. The urgent serenade of the second movement, opening with lutelike pizzicato strikes around a raspy viola ostinato, led to the hushed benediction of the slow movement full of glassy, iridescent sounds.
Downey is a freelance writer.