On Sunday evening London’s Wigmore Hall slowly filled itself up with a keen and attentive audience to hear the Borodin Quartet do what they do best: perform Shostakovich and Beethoven. Their recently-started cycle of the completely string quartets by these composers is sure to be one of the highlights of this and the upcoming chamber music seasons. Their intimate knowledge of the works of these composers, along with an elegant and well-balanced sound, makes the Borodin Quartet a force with which to be reckoned.

The Borodin Quartet © Keith Saunders
The Borodin Quartet
© Keith Saunders

This evening we were treated to two Shostakovich string quartets, no. 10 in A flat major and no. 8 in C minor, as well as Beethoven’s Op.131. These works sounded beautiful together, with their solemn opening bars and ample opportunity for the quartet to show off their well-rounded sound and their relentless energy. From the very first notes onwards, the Borodin Quartet captivated the audience with their elegant and well-balanced sound.

Shostakovich's String Quartet no. 10 in A flat major is one of his most powerful pieces of music. As such, it was a great opening to this evening's concert. After its beautifully balanced first movement, the energetic second movement got the listener to the edge of their seat. Throughout, the Borodin Quartet captured the audience's attention, yet in some ways I felt that their interpretation lacked some intensity. The positive thing about this was that the performance allowed for different interpretations of the music’s content and emotional range. This was above all clear in the fourth movement. Although not as light-footed as some interpretations, the Borodins gave a grave and at times stunning interpretation, which still somehow retained the flexibility of interpretation for the listener. Cellist Vladimir Balshin played particularly beautifully throughout the evening, his warm sound vibrating through the hall.

Following on from the Tenth, the Borodin Quartet launched into a beautiful version of Shostakovich's Eighth. The most famous of his string quartets, it contains numerous autobiographical references and its “DSCH” motif was emphasized throughout. The first, slow, movement was performed very well, although again at times I felt that its desolate nature could have been emphasized more. The second movement was beyond fault, however, and the fourth movement was exceptional, with a desolate ending and its final note utterly moving.

Beethoven’s String Quartet no. 14 in C sharp minor followed after the interval, and the Borodin Quartet once again gave an excellent performance. This piece has a very different structure from the Shostakovich quartets, as it consists of seven movements, played continuously. Yet again the piece opened with calm bars of mesmerizing movements, and the Borodins appeared to play with a slight spring in their step, with the last movement in particular feeling rather joyful. The last notes here did not move in the way the Shostakovich Eighth did, but instead I left the Wigmore Hall happy and satisfied, with an impressive evening of music behind me.