Exalted Performances by the Borodin Quartet

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Shostakovich, Beethoven: Borodin Quartet [Ruben Aharonian (violin), Sergei Lomovsky (violin), Igor Naidin (viola), Vladimir Balshin (cello)], Wigmore Hall, London, 22.4.2016 & 24.4.2016 (LB)

Programme No.1 – 22.4.2016:
Shostakovich – String Quartet No.4 in D Op.83
Beethoven – String Quartet in D Op.18 No.3
Grosse Fugue in B♭Op.133

Programme No.2 – 24.4.2016:
Shostakovich – String Quartet No.7 in F♯ minor Op.108
String Quartet No.11 in F minor Op.122
Beethoven – String Quartet in E♭ Op.127

As far as string quartet playing goes, the Borodin Quartet undeniably represents a pinnacle of human achievement and provides a thought-provoking reminder of the unparalleled and still unsurpassed artistic achievements of the USSR, a country that no longer exists.

The Borodin Quartet, formed in 1945, has and continues to enjoy a very special relationship with the music of Beethoven and Shostakovich, and on this visit to the Wigmore Hall they performed two concerts in their Beethoven and Shostakovich cycle; three quartets by Shostakovich, two by Beethoven and also his Grosse Fuge.

Shostakovich’s contribution to the development of the symphony and the string quartet is arguably as significant as that made by Haydn, who is of course generally deemed to be ‘Father’ of both of these musical forms. Shostakovich’s musical voice is an extremely personal, powerful and distinctive one, and the emotional and technical demands of his music onerous. His fifteen string quartets occupy a permanent and respected place in the standard repertoire for the medium, but few, if any, extant ensembles perform his music with as much authority as the Borodin String Quartet.

They perform these pieces almost as if they themselves had written them, with great depth of understanding, unassailable technical assurance and total emotional commitment; not a single note is allowed to pass perfunctorily by. It is clear that the connection they enjoy with Shostakovich, through their predecessors, whom he consulted on all matters pertaining to his quartets, contributes critically to the intensity and integrity of their performances.

I am reminded of a recent conversation with the eminent British violinist Kenneth Sillito, who related a discussion he’d had with the violinist Rostislav Dubinsky, one of the original members of the quartet, about Shostakovich’s Eighth quartet, and according to Dubinsky, the composer wished for the violin solo in the first movement to be played glissando. It is this level of knowledge, wisdom and integrity that underpins the Borodin Quartet’s performances, and also unequivocally emphasises the importance of depth of understanding, and perspective, in the search for meaning.

Their performances of Beethoven are no less committed, insightful or persuasive, and it was a delight to hear them perform the relatively early quartet Op.18 No.3, and then the intellectually challenging and emotionally turbulent Op.127.

Beethoven is credited with injecting new creative energy into the development of the string quartet, following the apparent maturation of the musical form bequeathed to him by his teacher, Haydn, and nearly two hundred years after he composed the Grosse Fuge, it is still profoundly shocking to the ear. The Borodins presented us with more than just a dutiful realisation of this complex work of contrapuntal and intellectual brilliance, and in extracting every last drop of musical drama, they left the audience emotionally traumatized, and totally drained.

The Borodin Quartet is a uniquely unified and integrated musical instrument, and that there were so many empty seats came as a real surprise and disappointment.

To experience ensemble playing of this exalted quality is a rare privilege.

Leon Bosch

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