How wonderful to see
Nimbus demonstrating all its strengths
in this superb issue.
The members of the
Kopelman Quartet are all graduates of
the Moscow Conservatoire of the 1970s.
The Quartet was formed in 2002. Of course,
Kopelman himself will be familiar to
many because he led the famous Borodin
Quartet for twenty years. Both Boris
Kuchar and Igor Sulyga were founding
members of the Moscow String Quartet
and worked with Shostakovich on the
composer’s late quartets. Mikhail Milman
was Principal Cello with the Moscow
Virtuosi. The Nimbus booklet note is
a model of its kind, thanks to the expertise
of Calum MacDonald. A shame perhaps
that the works are not discussed in
playing order: the Prokofiev comes first
– was the disc originally programmed
this way, I wonder?
Quite a line-up, then,
and this is indeed a group that seems
to give its all. The programme is exquisitely
chosen, not only to play to the quartet’s
strengths, but also because of the juxtaposition
of Shostakovich and Prokofiev. The importance
of Shostakovich’s cycle is without question,
but Prokofiev’s two little gems are
largely ignored - something I have never
understood. Marvellous that we can encounter
them in a performance such as this.
First, the Third Quartet
of Shostakovich. Effectively quashed
by the 1948 Congress of Soviet Composers,
it was one of various works that went
underground only to resurface in the
1960s. Related to the ‘War’ works -
MacDonald makes particular links to
the Eighth Symphony - it is a major
statement. The fourth movement Adagio
in particular is magnificent in its
exploration of emotive depth, especially
when delivered as hypnotically as here.
The desolate viola-against-cello imitations
of drumbeats is quite remarkable.
The first movement
begins in a much more carefree fashion,
spiky and full of life. Kopelman in
particular excels in his characterisation.
The recording initially seemed a little
boomy and over-spacious, but once adjustment
was made there was no cause for complaint.
The rugged determination of the second
movement and the peasant-like dance
of the third contain some of the most
uninhibited quartet playing I have heard
in a long while, on or off record. This
is a masterly performance. There have
been so many Shostakovich quartet recordings
in recent years, but few, if any, have
The Seventh Quartet
is dedicated to the memory of Shostakovich’s
wife who had died of cancer in 1954.
As MacDonald points out, this is the
shortest of the Shostakovich cycle.
Its terseness of expression seems to
hint at unplumbed depths. I like MacDonald’s
reference to the second theme of the
first movement as Shostakovich theatre
music; it is easy to hear exactly what
he means. The desolate intertwining
of themes in the slow movement lies
in stark contrast to the pure vehemence
of the finale.
So to the Prokofiev.
Written in the Caucasus, the composer
took advantage of access to a collection
of Kabardinian folksongs, including
several in this work; he uses a love-song
for the basis of the Adagio. MacDonald
states that two works using ‘local’
material had stood the test of time
– this and Miaskovsky’s 23rd
Symphony. Well, neither seems to get
many performances as far as I can see;
I have only heard the Prokofiev once
in live performance! It would be a real
victory for the recording industry if
this disc could spawn concert performances
of the quartet and in doing so give
it a real chance with the public.
The Kopelman Quartet
clearly takes the work very seriously.
The first movement is gritty, helped
by the close, but not stiflingly close,
recording. That recording really comes
into its own in the Adagio, where the
violin pizzicati are stunningly caught
by the uncredited engineers. This whole
movement is mesmeric, the octave statements
It is in the finale,
though, where one has to gasp at the
fertility of Prokofiev’s invention.
In the Kopelman Quartet’s hands, this
is like hearing the piece with new ears.
Surely, this disc will win the piece
A tremendous success.