Jupiter String Quartet at the Freer
Saturday, November 1, 2008 at 09:34AM
Stephen Brookes

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • October 31, 2008


s you'd expect from a group that's named itself after the king of the gods, the Jupiter String Quartet doesn't lack for confidence. This gifted and youngish foursome presented an ambitious program Wednesday at the Freer Gallery of Art that showcased two challenging, rarely heard works from Russia -- and brought them off superbly.

Dmitri Shostakovich's Quartet No. 7 may be the composer's most personal work; it's certainly one of his most moving. Dedicated to his late wife, it's a soul-tearing howl of love and anguish that, in the right hands, is riveting. The Jupiter players tore into it with real fire, turning in an involving, deeply empathetic performance that gripped the heart and never let go.

Shostakovich's onetime student Sofia Gubaidulina is less well known, but she’s one of the most important and original composers alive, writing with a seriousness of purpose that makes most of her contemporaries look like dabblers.  Her Quartet no. 2 from 1987 is a case in point: opening simply on a single note passed among the players, it blossoms into an exalting and utterly beautiful work that glows with a fierce radiance. The Jupiter played with equal parts daring and understanding, and it was impossible to tear your ears away.

Haydn’s Quartet in F, op. 77 no. 2 -- the last he ever wrote – opened the evening, and it brims with that mix of elegance and bomb-throwing subversion that keeps his music alive.  The Jupiter brought it off with freewheeling excitement and precise ensemble playing, and closed with a fine, full-blooded account of Beethoven’s  Quartet in E Minor, op. 59, no.2, one of the much-loved “Razumovsky” quartets.


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