Friends of Chamber Music

The Borodin Quartet

Shostakovich Quartet No.10 in A flat major, Op. 118 and Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110 Beethoven Quartet in C major, Op. 59, No. 3

Violin Ruben Aharonian Violin Andrei Abramenkov Viola Igor Naidin Cello Valentin Berlinsky

Date 15 November 2005 at 20.00 Venue Vancouver Playhouse Reviewer J H Stape

Borodin Quartet
Borodin Quartet

When comments like "Wonderful! Absolutely wonderful" are typical of the ones heard on leaving a concert, and an awed hush seems to flow for minutes after the bows have been lowered something truly special has transpired. The Borodin, which once brought Shostakovich to tears, has a long history of wowing: its concert for The Friends of Chamber Music, generously sponsored by Mrs Eleanor Malkin, was part of its far-flung Sixtieth Anniversary tour.

Lively, fresh, and sparkling, there was nothing hoary or venerable about this performance by the world's oldest quartet. The evening was imbued with musical taste, fine musicianship, and that something quite special that leaves audiences and reviewers gasping for superlatives.

Opening with so solemn and subdued a piece as Shostakovich's Quartet No.10 in A flat major, Op. 118 suggested the Borodin's self-confidence and its respect for its audience. The pensive Andante, with its brilliantly structured oppositions, opened into the brash and aggressive Allegro furioso, the marking getting fully value and the jumpy pyrotechnics articulating musical ideas that seemed to tumble and collide. Thoughtful feeling of an almost 18th-century character and graceful wistfulness predominated in the powerfully emotional Allegro and Allegretto, played as a single movement, until a sudden frisky motive in the violin swept all before it. The performance was richly detailed and exquisitely crafted, a ruthless technical perfectionism fully abetted by a rare emotional depth.

The vibrant climax quickly faded away as the elegiac and mournful Largo of Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110 got underway. Written to commemorate the victims of fascism and drawing on Shostakovich's own wartime experiences, the quartet relentlessly focuses on chastened sorrow and profound grief. Complex, brilliantly evocative, and deeply moving, the piece's five movements are played without a break, creating an intensity that, in its three largo movements in particular, falls just shy of being unbearable. The mid-section, marked Allegro molto and Allegretto, offer little relief, their energy and rapid shifts of tempi making no fewer demands on the emotions. The collaboration between the musicians -- and the Borodin Quartet first performed this piece in the composer's home -- was nothing less than remarkable in its intensity.

The closing Beethoven, of 1806, by way of bright contrast, seemed a throwback to the silk-stockinged days of "Papa" Haydn, a world so remote from ours that it is hard to believe it ever really existed. This was springtime after wintry depths, with subtle joy the keynote, emphasized by the elegant, intelligent playing. Poised, self-conscious beauty overflowed in the third movement Menuetto, its grazioso character given full, unstinting value. Rapid tempi and a bouncy tunefulness preceded the teasingly delayed climax of the closing Allegro molto. But we had glimpsed another world, and the haunting mood of Shostakovich voicing the sorrows of a generation was the evening's emotional high point.

The near-capacity audience at the Queen Eliabeth Playhouse (how dreary its lobby and how much an acoustic tune-up long overdue) was vivid testimony to the hard work The Friends of Chamber Music puts into creating buzz about its programming. Year-in, year-out -- it is approaching a youthful sixty itself -- this organization brings the very best chamber music ensembles to Vancouver. The audience for music of this complexity and seriousness may be small, but its loyalty is as obvious as its gratitude.

© 2005 JH Stape