The Jupiter String Quartet delivers in a new Marquis Classics release a noble performance filled with gravitas that never lapses into self-importance.
One of Beethoven’s favorite quartets, the Op. 131 in C-sharp Minor, is a late in life work that seems to embody in sound the composer’s ever untiring journey into still-to-be discovered musical territory.
Listening to the opening of the first movement, with the instruments entering one by one, the oneiric image of four persons entering a dense forest at night is brought to mind by the tonal vagueness of the composition. Marked C sharp minor the movement makes the musical path of the players all the more unsettling by laying down dissonance after dissonance that gets slowly and almost reluctantly resolved.
The Jupiter players, like the god of antiquity after which they name themselves are masterful at keeping their individuality even while entering the terra incognita of this composition. That entrance marks the beginning of a most unusual creation – a string quartet in seven sections that meld one into the next in at times brooding, later meditative passages that always refuse the players an easy way out of the all-encompassing density. Composed one year before his death at the age of 57, this quartet reveals a soul struggling to make peace with its creator though uncertain of what that might mean.
The second movement – a D major Allegro in 6/8 time that aims to be lively is still imbued with a melancholia that holds back every moment of mirth as if to remind the listener that its brevity is akin to that of our time on this planet: short and eventful. The third movement stuns with its blunt brevity and its tug of war between joy and pain all in the key of B minor.
What follows next is a fourteen-minute musical journey led by the first violin through seven diverse tempi in one key. An Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile segues to a più mosso, an Andante moderato e lusinghiero, an Adagio, an Allegretto, another Adagio, and one more Allegretto.
A restless Presto in Emajor, an Adagio in G sharp minor in ¾ time, and a straightforward, march-like though finally restful return to the original key of c sharp minor bring this monumental work to its precipitous, unsettling end after three quarters of an hour that symbolize the life journey of a human being from cradle to grave.
György Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1, “Métamorphoses nocturnes.” (Nocturnal Metamorphosis) completes the album with its compellingly harsh 20th century mix of tonal ambivalence contained in seventeen interconnected movements.
Its music calls for muscular playing and chameleonic changes of attack and intention and the Jupiter String Quartet astonishes with its magically virtuosic playing and its fastidiously meticulous musicianship in one of the finest albums this listener has heard thus far in this troubled 2020.
Rafael de Acha