La Scena Musicale

Friday, 25 January 2008

Jupiter String Quartet: Shostakovich and Britten

Shostakovich Quartet No. 3
Britten String Quartet No. 2

Marquis Classics MAR 371 (65 m 55 s)

**** $$$

The Jupiter String Quartet is, on paper, a blue-chip young group with all the right credentials to succeed in this remarkably competitive business of chamber music. This release, its début CD, comes on the heels of a host of prizes and honours: first prize at the 2004 Banff International String Quartet Competition, the Grand Prize at the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition of the same year, winners of the 2005 Young Concert Artists International Audition, and selection for a residency at Lincoln Center, among others. It's perhaps appropriate, then, that such a youthful ensemble starts off its professional recording career with the innocent and playful strains of the first movement from Shostakovich's Third String Quartet; the uncharacteristic simplicity and jollity of it cannot possibly prepare you for the darker and more ominous moods that come later in the piece. Programmatically, the Shostakovich is well paired on the disc with Britten's Second String Quartet: both pieces were written shortly after WWII and represent the work of two composers who didn't wish to celebrate the Allied victory in music but, rather, chose to come to terms with the devastation of the war through their art. The Jupiters attack both works with terrific panache and maturity. A feeling of elasticity pervades their performance on this recording, as the ensemble is remarkably sensitive to the extremes in mood achieved by these giants of 20th-century composition. In particular, the sustained, quiet intensity of the massive 20-minute finale of the Britten quartet, Chacony, connects one variation to another, keeping the listener in rapt suspense until the rousing, explosive conclusion. Their Shostakovich won't replace my Emerson Quartet recording (what can?) in terms of performance or recording quality, but it is still a convincing and successful interpretation, especially for a first release; clearly, the term "rookie" hardly applies to this ensemble.

-Graham Lord

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