BEETHOVEN: String Quartet No. 14 in c-sharp, Op. 131 – Jasper String Quartet – Sono Luminus SL-D-97203, 37:42 (download only) ***:
This release of one of Beethoven’s most popular string quartets is being offered online in digital format as a download. The Jasper Quartet is Professional Quartet-in-Residence at Temple University’s Center for Gifted Young Musicians. They have an elegant sense of style, technical acumen, and a nice quartet tone. But as with many younger musicians, interpretative finesse takes some time to develop, especially in an ensemble type that has such a profound and exalted history, and this is where I feel let down in this rendition.
Beethoven’s C-sharp minor quartet is a smorgasbord of disconnected episodes that take a well-founded and superior feeling for the interrelated connective tissues that can easily flounder if any performing group is not firmly and inextricably wedded to Beethoven’s sense of continuity. Here I think that the Jasper is far too cautious; one gets the feeling that they are proceeding as if not to make a mistake, not technically, of which there are no flaws, but in terms of overall progression of tempo and emotional tone. This music requires a sense of abandonment and unbridled exploration, as if new territory is being come upon, and these particular explorers are not sure if they should push on or not.
This is hardly a bad performance, and I am sure that they will continue to develop as all the tools are present. But with such a vast recorded legacy to compare, there is still more to learn and consider until ready for a very dignified and immensely rich prime time. Sound is excellent.