There's a mathematical spinoff of a Zeno paradox that says you can never reach your destination. To get somewhere, you first must travel halfway to it, but from there you need to pass the midpoint of the remaining distance. You end up getting closer and closer, but never reaching the goal.
Performing music is not unlike this. Musicians never feel they get to the interpretation they want to or achieve perfection, whatever that may be. But it is within those minute gradations that a performance goes from wonderful to awe-inspiring. That is the best way I can explain the playing of the Jerusalem Quartet Tuesday night at Carnegie Music Hall. In its long-awaited debut on the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society series, they were closer to my conception of how Mozart and Shostakovich, dare I say, should sound. Everyone's take will be different, but surely the performance landed in that area for most.
Violinists Alexander Pavlovsky (first) and Sergei Bresler (second), cellist Kyril Zlotnikov and violist Ori Kam displayed the discipline of a top orchestra string section yet the nuances of a chamber choir, all evident in a performance of Mozart's "Prussian" Quartet. The collective tone almost sounded as if they had mutes on (the tiny rubber pads that dampen sound when attached to the bridge, not silence it). It was mellow and broad, never tinny even in the higher registers. In the first movement, the phrasing gave weight to the contours between the beginning and ends of lines. The last notes were often offered shorter than written duration, but still rang with definite attainment.
This was not dull or ambiguous playing in the least. The musicians thrust the cascading scales of the second movement from the texture more so than is typical and Mr. Zlotnikov and Mr. Kam put their stamps onto counter melodies and distinct harmonies throughout. The former appeared to be almost intrusive in his desire to connect with the others, but closing one's ears allowed you to realize these looks were deceiving: his was present but collaborative and supportive.
Shostakovich's Quartet No. 1 was full of character but also cohesiveness. Dissonance swirled within the music rather than in opposition to it. Mr. Kam's solo in the second movement seemed to capture the sorrow and solitude of the composer's alienated relationship to his country. Or, without adding such meaning, he superbly mustered an opaque timbre amid steadfast legato.
The quartet ended with a sweet yet spacious performance of Borodin's Quartet No. 2.