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Classical Source

Wigmore Hall, London May 19 2007

Borodin String Quartet No.2 in D

Shostakovich String Quartet No.8 in C minor, Op.110

Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence, Op.70

The Kopelman Quartet, Julian Rachlin (viola) & Mischa Maisky (cello)

The Kopelman Quartet, founded in 2002, comprises one-time members of the Borodin Quartet, the Moscow Quartet and the Moscow Virtuosi. This year the members of the Kopelman Quartet are Artists in Residence at the Perth International Festival and the West Cork Chamber Music Festival. The musicians cohere unforgettably, to the manner born, allying impressive technique to a solid mutual sympathy and understanding for music from the land of their birth.

Julian Rachlin, the violinist here turned violist, has his own festival in Dubrovnik and is on the faculty at the Vienna Conservatory. Mischa Maisky, after winning the Gaspar Cassado International Competition in Florence, was Piatigorsky’s last pupil. It shows, gloriously and distinctly.

Borodin dedicated his D major Quartet to his wife, commemorating their first meeting at Heidelberg twenty years earlier in 1861. In effect, he serenades her – and moreover, in the first and last movements, serenades her in sonata form. The quartet’s well-known melodies are ardent, tender and loving, not least the ‘Notturno’ at its heart. The keynote of the Kopelman Quartet’s performance was a melting sweetness, assured in its professionalism, confidently affectionate and fluently sincere, with just an occasional hint of breathless wonder and delight, expressed through slight, almost unnoticeable rubato. This was a tour de force, enchanting and fresh.

Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet received a rich, very human performance – dark and agonised, brittle and resigned, deeply aware of the distress that lies at the core of the human condition. This was a very Russian performance of Shostakovich’s best-known, most-often-played quartet. We heard from an offspring of Borodin and Tchaikovsky, rather than an international ‘modern’ composer ready to stand beside Prokofiev or another bi-polar-sounding highly personal, individual yelp of pain. Igor Sulyga made the most of the prominent viola part. Here, Shostakovich’s disturbance and insight were universal.

Souvenir de Florence glowed. Tchaikovsky’s writing for string sextet is quite a different animal from, say, Brahms’s. It is lighter, more agile and distributes its parts and solos with nimbler feet. This, like the Borodin work, has the style of a serenade. The music sings lyrically, whether scurrying or relaxing, sunny or overcast, or using original themes or utilising folk modes. There were plenty of solo moments – giving Rachlin the opportunity to charm us resurgently, with soaring cheer, while Maisky dug deep, producing cavernous tones of reassuring, melodic richness. From the mid-movement fugue, the finale developed into a hectic, intoxicating riot.

This distinguished concert gave us, one might say, a panorama of the Russian soul.