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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Jasper String Quartet, The Kernis Project: Debussy, String Quartets by Aaron Jay Kernis and Claude Debussy

In the world we believe we are a part of there is never a last word, ideally, on the music we hold dear to ourselves, nor is there ever an end to the ongoing addition of works that come to be part of our personal recognitions, our "things we ever like" shopping list on any given day. Auspiciously both are present on a very rewarding listen by the Jasper String Quartet, via an album entitled The Kernis Project: Debussy (Sono Luminus DSL-92233). On it we hear a new take on an older classic and a new music to be taken hold of, a new-old and a new-new.

To untangle the poetic web of word images it needs to be said that this album gives us the Jasper Quartet's very fine readings of "String Quartet No. 3, 'River,'" by Aaron Jay Kernis and Claude Debussy's "String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10." No doubt most will know the Debussy. On the other hand the Kernis Quartet will doubtless be something new, as it enjoys a pre-eminent Jasper focus after they had commissioned it and it has had a chance to mature in their hands since its completion in 2015.

The Jasper Quartet's enthusiasm for Kernis is long standing. They have covered the earlier quartets in several volumes, to critical and popular acclaim. I must make a note of hearing those but at any rate this Kernis Third has a great deal of substance and depth. It is filled with melodic-harmonic complexities, rich shades in the manner of the deepest-of-the deep quartets from Beethoven on. It is a Quartet's Quartet and clearly the Jasper Quartet has meshed with its maze of details in an intensity of commitment and scope that brings to us directly the brilliance of the work. On a continuum is is tonal but complexly so, like parts of the Bartok opus perhaps, but a bit less obviously Modern and then again not altogether removed from the performance partner quartet on this program.

So it is fitting that the Kernis is presented along with the Debussy, for they are in no way unrelated to one another in their lyric color and expressive dash. The Jasper approach to the pizzicato parts in the Debussy is as wonderful as I have heard, and there is a real sweetness and passion to this reading that puts it something closer to the Budapest Quartet's classic LP performance than a more Minimal-Modern brusqueness that one can also hear these days, sometimes quite nicely so. The Jasper Quartet uncovers a high level of lyric feeling without going Romantic in the end and so all the better. It sounds as a reading of our time and fits a nice space in the spectrum of possible contemporary performances.

In sum there is a great deal to digest, to explore, to learn from and to enjoy on this program. The Jasper Quartet is among the very best such groups working today and they bring us a sterling Kernis and a heartening Debussy. You cannot lose here in that there is so much good happening you are bound to be pleased I think. Give it an earful.

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