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Rochester Review

November 10, 2004. The Democratic and Chronicle Concert review

Kopelman quartet perfectly calibrated

John Pitcher, Staff music critic

The Kopelman String Quartet , which gave a thrilling concert on Tuesday night at Kilbourn Hall, is a kind of classical music all-star team - its players are all former members of some of the world's most prestigious ensembles.

Mikhail Kopelman , the group's namesake and first violinist, once led the Borodin String Quartet and later the legendary Tokyo String Quartet . Second violinist Boris Kuschnir and violist Igor Sulyga were both founding members of the Moscow String Quartet , and cellist Mikhail Milman spent 20 years as the principal cellist of the Moscow Virtuosi.

Because of that kind of star power, there was a lot of electricity at Kilbourn, and the fact that this phenomenal Russian ensemble was playing an all-Russian program only added to the collective sense of anticipation. Needless to say, the group lived up to its lofty reputation.

It even surpassed it. Rarely have I heard four instrumentalists play with such perfect balance and expert calibration - they were a veritable musical Swiss watch. Yet even though their sound was wonderfully blended, it never seemed homogenous. Indeed, the distinct sound and musical personality of each player always stood out in bold relief.

That said, the most remarkable thing about the Kopelman Quartet is the power of its interpretation, at least in Russian music. It would be difficult, for instance, to make a case for greatness for Nikolay Myaskovsky, the Soviet-era composer whose Quartet No. 13, Op. 86 was on the program - he was a prolific yet rather unoriginal composer. Yet the Kopelmans made him sound like Brahms - warm, lyrical, musically weighty and inviting.

They had a similar success in Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No. 3 in E-flat Minor, Op. 30. It's easy to make a case for Tchaikovsky's greatness, but not usually in chamber music. Tchaikovsky's genius was directly proportionate to the number of instruments included in a score.

In a big orchestral piece he always seemed to find the right instrumental color - a dash of piccolo or a pinch of flute - and the effect was exhilarating. In solo or chamber music, which is more monotone, his shortcomings - his meandering sense of musical architecture - tended to stand out. Yet with the Kopelman Quartet , I thought I was listening to one of Tchaikovsky's great symphonies.

The challenge with Prokofiev's Quartet No. 2 in F major, Op. 92, is also structural - it's episodic, to the point of sounding moody. The Kopelmans played it with a sense of energy, humor and flow, turning the piece into a seamless musical tapestry.

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