Friends of Chamber Music

Borodin String Quartet

Date 27 February 2007 @ 20.00 Venue Vancouver Playhouse

Shostakovich String Quartet No 4 in D Major, Op. 83 | String Quartet No. 6 in G major, Op. 101 | String Quartet No. 9 in E-flat major, Op. 117

Reviewer J H Stape

An all-Shostakovich programme scheduled by The Borodin String Quartet offers an opportunity to hear the work of arguably the twentieth century's greatest composer played by a group very closely associated with him. Aware that an evening of superb musicianship was on offer, the large audience that filled the Vancouver Playhouse were regaled with an evening of matchless music-making that can only be described as spellbinding.

The opening quartet in D major, written in 1949, was a perfectly chosen entry point into the Shostakovich soundscape. Its gentle and profound Allegretto was slightly wistful but never plaintive, and the exposition of ideas refined and nuanced. The Andantino developed a meditative mood of extreme grace and delicacy in a quartet based upon vivid contrasts, further developed in the rhythmically driven second Allegretto movement where the gypsy elements were joyous but never boisterous. The closing Allegretto (yet another) again relied upon the sophistication of folk elements, with the ending teasingly playful as Shostakovich explored sounds very old in a mode that was very new.

The piece set the benchmark for the evening: the playing, apparently effortless, was relentlessly revealing and insightful, with great mastery of technique abetted by interpretive skills of the highest order.

The Quartet in G major (1956), opening with a Mozartian brightness in a modern idiom, was full of elegant joyousness and a youthful bubbly charm that was transformed in the Moderato con moto second movement into a kind of thoughtful happiness as energies became more intense and the sharp detailed playing effected a change in mood. The last two movements explored musical form -- a passacaglia and a canon -- with an emphasis on seriousness at times relieved by naughty playfulness. Just when the material seemed to reach the point of overextension Shostakovich throws in the towel in one of those bold gestures so typical of his work.

Completed in 1964, Quartet No. 9 in E flat major, opens in a tentative, exploratory mood from which it seems unable to escape until the transition in the Adagio where intensity and sadness dominate as Shostakovich plunges into the inner depths, wandering, reflective, and elusive. The rhythmically driven Allegretto shifts the mood again into rushy buoyancy, dizzying shifts tempi and great urgency developing into an intensity that borders on the flamboyant. An Allegro again offers contrast, diffidence again a key mood, as foot-dragging and static elements tend to predominate. The extreme shifts continue into the closing Allegro which centres round a mad dance, a playful homage at times, it seems, to Paganini, as the virtuoso character of the music becomes insistent and finally sweeps all before it, with the close full of fire and flair, dash and brio.

As if this were not enough, the Quartet generously offered Shostakovich's "Elegy" as an encore. A standing ovation was a must and bravi rang out in thanks and awe.

To celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Friends of Chamber Music, the Society has invited The Borodin to perform the complete cycle of Shostakovich's fifteen quartets in five concerts during 12 - 21 June. What a grand event that should be. Bookings can be made now.

© 2007 J H Stape