By Miranda Wilson | From the July-August 2021 issue of Strings magazine
This disc by the new-look Juilliard String Quartet celebrates the group’s 75th anniversary, and its first recording with current leader, Greek violinist Areta Zhulla, who joined the ensemble in 2018. In recent years, following the retirements of longtime members, two other new members (violist Roger Tapping and cellist Astrid Schween) have joined second violinist Ronald Copes in the venerable quartet. In these interpretations of the second of Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Quartets, the third Bartók, and Dvořák’s “American” Quartet, the new Juilliard puts its own original stamp on core repertoire.
The difference in sound is striking if you listen to this Beethoven back-to-back with a recording of an earlier incarnation of the group (the 1964–70 album). Where the classic recording features a direct, focused tone, a measured sense of pace, and much use of sostenuto and vibrato, the new Juilliard’s Beethoven has a poetic, searching quality. The pulse is more flexible, the sound richer in overtones. Tempi tend to be fleet-footed, particularly in the brilliant finale.
Tapping, a former member of the Takács Quartet, was the violist on that group’s 1998 recording of the Bartók cycle. It is fascinating to hear how his interpretation has evolved: the bow strokes are lighter and less sustained in the first movement; by the time we reach the coda, the group has moved into a ghostly, sinuous sound world.
If you have ever wondered whether we really need another recording of the “American” Quartet, the answer is yes, we need this one. The new Juilliard’s recording is a miracle of contrasting color and gorgeously exciting rubato, and their playing makes an old warhorse young again.