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The Herald

The Herald Scotland 25.08.03

Kopelman Quartet, Queen's Hall * * * *

With Beethoven's complete quartets in progress elsewhere in town, this programme of Tchaikovsky and Schubert seemed nothing if not interventionist. But what an intervention! The concert may have been a one-off, the Kopelmans may be new to Britain, but on the strength of what they did on Saturday morning these Russians deserve to be given a series to themselves next year.

If that happens, let them choose Tchaikovsky. Presenting his Third Quartet as a visiting card could have been disastrous in hands other than theirs, for the work is long, difficult to perform, written in a notoriously awkward six-flatted key (E flat minor), and widely dismissed as a symphony in disguise. But if anyone can reveal it as a masterpiece, it is a Russian ensemble such as this, who know how to play it and clearly adore its every note.

With true but never overstated appreciation of its sense of mortality - written in memory of a friend, it was later performed at the composer's own funeral - they conveyed to a nicety the muted undertones of the valedictory slow movement, the sad poise of pizzicato accompaniments, the emotional rises and falls in no way undermined by the fact that they were voiced by four players rather than 90.

Here was music-making of total integrity, with each player listening intently, and visibly, to his companions. The same virtues pervaded Schubert's C minor Quartettsatz and the Death and the Maiden quartet in performances which once again were all the better for their rigour, beauty of inner detail, and desire to let the music speak eloquently for itself.

Conrad Wilson