Review: Borodin Quartet tribute to 9/11
Chamber group also test out new hall
by Arthur Kaptainis | The Montreal Gazette | September 12, 2011
There were a few ways for a musical organization to acknowledge 9/11, including remaining silent, which appeared initially to be the option preferred by the OSM. As it turned out, the orchestra’s presentation on Sunday evening of the Borodin String Quartet – which had no prior billing as a commemoration – served this purpose rather well. It also established the potential of the new concert hall as a chamber music venue.
The performance was presented in reverse, with about 320 listeners at the rear of the hall, and the quartet near the stage apron, playing backwards. Were all those empty seats in the “background” meant to remind us of the thousands of New Yorkers murdered a decade ago? Probably not, although this is how I parsed the scene when lights were lowered for Shostokovich’s String Quartet No. 15.
This is a sombre piece of six movements, five marked Adagio and one marked – for the sake of variety! – Molto Adagio. Under any circumstances the 40-minute score demands the highest standards of tonal control and formal concentration, which this Russian group handily provided.
None of the original Borodin players remain, but the combination of warmth and discipline for which the 20th-century formation was famous has not deteriorated a bit. Quiet chorales were superbly focused, and while violinist Ruben Aharonian functioned as a natural leader, the solos of his colleagues (Sergei Lomovsky (second violon), Igor Naidin (viola) and Vladimir Balshin (cello) all had personal resonance.
Shostakovich’s music is not unremittingly bleak: A few interludes of wryness and sentiment intervene, although the effect is more nostalgic than hopeful. I need hardly elaborate on the pertinence of those held notes at the start of the Serenade – cries of grief to most ears. Much bad music has been written and performed under the rubric of minimalism. This piece is a true masterpiece of the genre.
Before the Shostakovich, we heard another heavyweight, Beethoven’s probing Quartet Op. 132. The second movement had a natural lift; vibrato was applied or withheld, according to artistic need, in the Holy Song of Thanksgiving. As for the acoustics, there was a feeling of intimacy, paradoxically enhanced by the glow of the vast room.
Earlier, in the conventionally bright confines of Pollack Hall, we heard the Tokyo String Quartet give the first concert of the Ladies’ Morning Musical Club season. Haydn’s Op. 77 No. 1 was convivial and Szymanowski’s Quartet No. 1 Op. 37 proved to be an interesting exercise in turbulent impressionism.
Beethoven’s Op. 131, after intermission, sounded more like an easygoing divertimento than the great piece we know it to be. Maybe the players need to set this score aside for a year or two.
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