Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Borodin Quartet Tchaikovsky String Quartets Nos 1 2 Shostakovich String Quartets Nos 3 8|
Actors: Tchaikovsky, Borodin Quartet, Shostakovich
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Russian Quartets Played by THE Russian Quartet
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 01/14/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I will always owe a huge debt to the Borodin String Quartet as it was they in their 1960s first go at the Shostakovich Quartets (well, thirteen of them -- the last two hadn't been written yet), who introduced me to that Russian master's great series. (Actually it was a student of mine who gave me the set in return for my having given him a recording of Wagner's 'Siegfried'. Thank you, Mike!) I darn near wore out that set of LPs and fell more and more deeply in love with these works.
Well, here we have a video recording of two of the Shostakovich quartets, Nos. 3 and 8. And also of the first two Tchaikovsky string quartets. All were recorded in 1987 by BBC TV; those were the days of serious programming! The ensemble's personnel have now almost completely changed, second violinist Andrei Abramenkov the only member now remaining. And, sadly, one must report that the group's longest serving member, the brilliant cellist Valentin Berlinsky, died only a month ago, on December 15, 2008; he had joined the quartet in 1945 (after the brief tenure of Msistslav Rostropovich) and left it in late 2007, more than sixty years! On this DVD he is seen and heard playing with undiminished capabilities.
The Tchaikovsky quartets are the first important Russian string quartets. The First Quartet is the one most people know best, largely because of the famous and beloved second movement, the Andante Cantabile, a gorgeous piece that is virtually a rhapsody on two tunes for the first violinist with lush chordal accompaniment by the other three players. First violinist Mikhail Kopelman and his colleagues play it soulfully without schmaltzing it up as so often happens. For me another high point, and particularly so in this performance, is the third movement, the Scherzo with its colorful Russian folk-influenced rhythms and its trio section with the cellist's two-note drone played with poker face here by Berlinsky. The Second Quartet is notable, for me, for its anguished hyperchromatic (for Tchaikovsky) Andante movement. The coda of this movement, with the throbbing cello and almost tearful first violin, is almost too much to bear. The dancing fourth movement comes as a welcome relief of emotional tension.
There is a change of set for the Shostakovich Quartets. For the Tchaikovsky the set is light and airy. For the Shostakovich the set has subdued lighting and there is a back-projection of what looks like a black-and-white Franz Kline abstract expressionist painting. This is probably fitting for the Eighth Quartet, but I've always found the Third Quartet to be humorously sardonic. The Borodins play these two quartets with absolute conviction and utter mastery. I can't think of any other quartet who can outdo them for authenticity. The Eighth, whose dedication reads 'in memory of victims of fascism and war', is an open wound. Its final movement, a slow fugato based on the composer's initials -- D S C H (D Eflat C B in non-German notation) -- and reminiscent of the quartet's opening movement, is played with deep feeling by the Borodins. Throughout these two quartets are grittiness, flashes of lightning, muted grief and outrage, pained tenderness, and innocence -- all the things that make Shostakovich so much a master of his time and for all time.
The only small drawback to this DVD is that the sound is of its time and perhaps not even the best of its time. There are occasional problems with slight distortion at high levels and when the first violin is playing in its highest register. The videography shows more movement between among closeups of the musicians and their instruments than I might have wished. Hence, I've given the DVD a four-star rating. Still, for me as a long-time devotee of this quartet and of these works, I would not want to be without this document of a quartet that no longer has these legendary players.