The essence of TS Eliot's Fourth Quartet - "And the end of all our
exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for
the first time..." - rang out true and clear in the Borodin Quartet's
performance of Shostakovich's Third Quartet tonight in Temple Emanu-El.
When that silly, almost crude dance theme of the first movement returned,
transfigured, to relieve the anguish of the finale, we truly knew it for
the first time. And when the sound stopped, the music continued, in the
long, stunned silence, the ultimate ovation for a performance.
It is one thing to know that Shostakovich "used" the Borodin to try out,
and sometimes premiere, his music, that the quartet's cellist, Valentin
Berlinsky, who helped to form the ensemble almost 60 years ago, was
there, working with the composer. It's quite another thing to hear the
power, the authenticity of a performance. Only in its second year, the
Music at Meyer series scored big in getting the quartet on its anniversary
tour: Concertgebouw, Musikverein... and Temple Emanu-El!
There was a downside to the contrast between those hallowed venues and
this small hall: chairs for the musicians were stacked double to provide
the right height, and first violinist Ruben Aharonian almost fell off,
while playing... twice, before getting rid of the top chair. The hall's
tricky acoustics did the quartet in during the opening Tchaikovsky Quartet
No. 2, Aharonian overpowering the other three - something that didn't
happen again later on. Even so, the heart of the work, the complex,
substantive Andante was right and true.
Stravinsky's Three Pieces for String Quartet is a bizarre affair, two
musical jokes (with pizzicato in extremes) followed by a very different,
meandering, "night music" movement, played by the quartet with dedication,
enjoyment and excellence.
And yet, nothing in the concert could prepare the listener for the impact
of the Shostakovich, especially because the work itself starts with such
simple, deliberately simple-minded, innocent dance figures. The second
movement continues the deception, with a Prokofiev-imitating (or mocking?)
pizzicato march. And then comes the Allegro, with the march picking up
a sinister, strident tempo, innocent energy suddenly (but logically)
exploding in violence, anger, leading to the dark, tragic setting of the
Adagio, and eventually, some hope, perhaps redemption, promised by that
now-gentle dance tune.
All through this harrowing, climactic journey, the Borodin was transformed
into a superb, flawless instrument, playing the enormous variety of music
with equal excellence - from rafter-shaking fortissimos to a hushed
conversation between Berlinsky's cello and Igor Naidin's viola. (Naidin,
at 36, could be the cellist's grandson, and yet it was a duet of equals.)
Aharonian and second violinist Andrei Abramenkov played like angels, and
the ovation following that beautiful silence responding to the Shostakovich
was ALMOST enough to coax a smile from the quartet. Alas, the Soviet-style
shy/dignified distance from the audience is still with us, so hugging
this magnificent, if dour, foursome was out of the question. Too bad.
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