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Oviedo Review review of concert in Oviedo, Spain, on 8 August 2006

Shostakovich: string quartet no 7

Stravinsky: three pieces for string quartet

Tchaikovsky: string quartet no 2

The programme was all Russian, interpreted by Russian artists.  The Kopelman Quartet, named after its founder and first violin, leader for twenty years of the legendary Borodin Quartet, and comprising two founders of the Moscow Quartet (Boris Kuschnir, second violin, and Igor Sulyga, viola), played in effect four works by Russian composers of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Shostakovich’s 7th quartet (1960) is without doubt one of his most disturbing works.  In the peak of despair, the Kopelmans, clearly close to the Borodins, were exemplary.  The cello made a particular impression in the lento.  Few quartets in the world are clearly capable of rendering the implacable aspects of the allegro finale as are the Kopelmans, without  any awkward bowing or sounds and with such ease and fluency.

The three short Stravinsky pieces which followed, dating from 1914, formed a sort of interlude before the return of Shostakovich.  Again, the cello was extraordinary in the Danse, first playing the role of the drum with a single string, before the central piece, Eccentrique, very ironic, and the return of Russian Fate in the finale, Canticle.

Shostakovich’s first quartet (1938) is still a work of youth which does not have the dramatic power of the later scores, despite the date of its composition, but the Kopelmans were again sovereign, the viola totally charming in the lullaby of the moderato and the first violin wonderfully light and nimble in the final allegro.

Tchaikovsky’s second quartet (1874) was again interpreted very seriously, as the Russians know how.  After a very virtuosic first movement where the composer doesn’t have much to say but says it with a lot of notes and the scherzo with its singing melodies where the violin positively assaults with charm, the andante allows once more the cello to show his dominance in the expression of Fate, before the trenchant fugue of the final allegro can die out in an outpouring of emotion typical of Tchaikovsky's final measures.

The applause of the large audience, including many Russians, persuaded the Kopelmans to offer as encore the second movement, scherzo, of Tchaikovsky’s third quartet (1876), in which the composer amused himself by passing a theme from one instrument to the other.  Again, everything was perfect.

Stephane Guy