The evening opened with Tchaikovsky's Album pour enfants, arranged for string quartet by one of the founders of the Borodin Quartet, violinist Rostislav Dubinsky. With every one of the 24 short pieces – originally meant for piano practice for the young – the quartet's flawless cooperation and the perfection of each stroke was manifest. Since the piece is not meant as a showcase for virtuosity, the result was an utterly enjoyable performance, with the quartet performing fully as an entity. They played masterly through the various styles of the mostly one-minute-long pieces: the subtlety of the first ones (for instance, Morning Prayer), the energy of the latter (German and Neapolitan Airs) and the unusual instrumentation of others (Baba Yaga). The highlight was the cellist's pizzicato in The New Doll.

Borodin Quartet © Andy Staples
Borodin Quartet
© Andy Staples

Schubert's posthumously published Quartet Movement in C minor, D.703 was meant to be part of the Twelfth String Quartet, but it was never completed. The proficiency of the players here was once again breathtaking. In this compact, ten-minute piece, moods wander back and forth between tempestuous instability and pastoral idylls, and all this was done with great success by the performers. A highlight was, once again, the cellist's pizzicato, which served both as a harmonic and a percussive support to the first violin during the melodious pastoral passages, played with matching proficiency. After a work of such beauty, one is left wondering how the complete work would have sounded, had it ever existed.

After the interval, the viola opened Shostakovich's Sixth String Quartet majestically. Meant as a birthday present to himself, the work is full of both joyful and gloomy passages, which the musicians handled flawlessly. It is a work that greatly builds upon near repetition of passages, but with slightly changed harmony or a few different notes, all of which result in a greatly nuanced character. Once again, the Borodin Quartet excelled. The third movement Lento was the highlight of this superb performance, thanks to the utter expressivity of the players.

Shostakovich's Thirteenth String Quartet was a fitting conclusion to a concert that had witnessed a variety of pieces from different epochs. This one-movement piece has a much more modern character than the previous work, and the ensemble proved once again its utter plasticity of interpretation and technical precision. In the middle of the piece, the so called dark dance, played by the cello in the manner of a jazz-like walking bass accompanied by the tapping of the instrument body with the bow done by the other players, couldn't have been more different to Schubert's piece, but yet the Borodin Quartet wasn't out of its territory. 

It is often said that there are two kinds of Shostakovich listeners: the ones that greatly prefer the symphonies and the ones that favour the string quartets. After this performance, I – once a strong symphonic adherent – was completely freed from that division.

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