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Louisiana Review

KOPELMAN QUARTET Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark Kultunaut, 30 November 2005

The evening's guests at Louisiana were the Kopelman Quartet, founded in 2002 by Mikhail Kopelman, who has spent twenty years as first violin in the famous Borodin Quartet. The other members are not exactly anonymous either. Boris Kuschnir, second violin and Igor Sulyga on viola founded the Moscow Quartet, and Mikhail Milman has been first cello in the Moscow Virtuosi. All trained at the Moscow Conservatory in its prime in the seventies. Pure Russian aristos!

The Kopelman Quartet is a magnificent string quartet. They play with exceptional musicality and understanding, in deadly earnest and with supreme chamber-music balance. Louisiana has a knack of inviting ensembles of the highest calibre and the Kopelman Quartet fully lived up to the expectations raised by both Louisiana and their Russian reputation.  From a hardly whispering chorale-like introduction, Tchaikovsky's E flat minor string quartet unfolded over the next four movements into almost symphonic proportions. The QuartetÕs first violinist Kopelman played with enchanting beauty Ð every phrase, every detail offered a clear view of the broad lines without losing either nerve or intensity. The incredible mobility of the ensemble is inspiring Ð the parts are both soloistic and seamlessly welded together, according to the requirements of the composer. They have magnificent pathos and sly subtlety Ð gliding between one and the other as if the most natural thing in the world. All to the required extent and yet neither boring nor predictable. Tchaikovsky can often become too saccharine or too clichŽd; but in the hands of these gentlemen he is the epitome of Russian greatness. The melancholy and the inwardness are both exquisitely beautiful and mournfully present in a world full of suffering. StravinskyÕs Three Pieces for String Quartet exhibited a quite different kind of bite and burlesque quirkiness. It was quite a surprise when Kuschnir and Sulyga held their instruments standing on their thighs like miniature double-basses to do the pizzicato!

After the interval came ShostakovichÕs String Quartet in F major, and this was a memorable experience. The music has to be heard with World War II in mind. Lightness and energy permeated the first movement without becoming banal. The insistent rhythm and slightly na•ve cheerfulness of the movement formed a stark contrast to the angry viola triads and the dementedly combative melody in the second movement. Shostakovich himself gave the movements titles, and the third movementÕs «The forces of war unleashedÕ accords well with the cruelty and frustration one heard here. The fourth movement, in memory of the fallen, was pure pain, wailing and despair. Dismaying! The slightly morbid melodic treatment of the last movement is clearly ironic and at the same time has the sadness of resignation. The title, 'The eternal question: Why and for what?' associates the music with a constantly recurrent brooding over human nature. That the members of the Quartet have worked closely with Shostakovich himself gives the natural explanation of why they deliver so perfect a performance of his music. One great bonus with LouisianaÕs concerts is incidentally the comprehensive programme notes that accompany the concert ticket. They always provide enriching background material, which helps to make the experience of the music even more rounded.

One could single out Kopelman for his fantastic musicianship and singing tone; one could also single out Kuschnir for so delicately winding his way around and through the sounds of the other members and yet stepping firmly into character when he should. One could rejoice over a violist like Sulyga, who played voluminously and with authority, and one could weep at MilmanÕs moving sound and beautiful phrasing. One could enthuse again and again over the suppleness and powerful expressiveness of the ensemble. One could go on!

The only question the concert on Friday leaves is how soon shall we see these gentlemen again? Perhaps on the occasion of the centenary of Shostakovich's birth next year?