S&H Concert Review

Beethoven String Quartets Op. 95 & 127 Shostakovich String Quartet No. 3 The Borodin Quartet Wigmore Hall, 7 March 2001 (PGW)

Capacity audiences attend this Beethoven/Shostakovich series, which The Borodin Quartet have been touring; it is running in London from last September through to June. The next is on 10 March, with Ludmilla Berlinskaia joining the quartet for Shostakovich's piano quintet. The fully illustrated programme book is glossy and has a lengthy, interesting essay by Richard Taruskin.

Formed in 1945, today's cellist was a founder member. The quartet changed to its present name in 1955, and the violist has been with them for over 25 years.

They are technically impeccable, but there is, after so long together, no cut and thrust between the individual players and little spontaneity to perceive. There was nothing wrong in their accounts of the two miraculous Beethoven works, nor any magic.

The third of Shostakovich's 15 Quartets is one of the oddest and most perplexing. It begins with uneasy jauntiness but passes through violence in the unfunny scherzo to a desolate finale which peters out 'leaving the cello harping mindlessly (it seems) on a tuning note' (Taruskin). The early part was played with telling precision and all the nuances were carefully in place; there has been a continuity of involvement with these quartets by the Borodin players since this one was composed in 1946. Impressive but bleak; the seriousness which Shostakovich could not prevent from breaking in, even in a work which begins deceptively like a (nearly) charming divertimento reminded us that Beethoven's concentrated Op 95, with which they commenced, is subtitled Serioso.

The Borodins' performances suffered from a degree of over-preparedness and predictability, a symptom of the CD era. From Sarah Dunlop's account, an evening with the Solaris Quartet a few days before, flawed though they were, sounded to have been more stimulating and rewarding.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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