Review: Kopelman Quartet, Russian String Quartets, Snape Proms, August 22

The Kopelman Quartet was formed 10 years ago, but its members had substantial and distinguished solo and chamber careers prior to this. They brought string quartets from three of their most distinguished fellow-countrymen, fine works but not all well-known. All to the good, one might say.

Borodin’s second quartet is one of the most popular of all Russian chamber music, its global appeal deriving from the adoption of the nocturne’s main theme in the musical Kismet. Although the music must have been in the player’s blood, the performance failed to take wing and there was an occasional sense of routine.

The opening bars of Shostakovich’s quartet no 13 were immediately arresting as violist Ilya Solyga set out the tonal row that dominates the work. The palpable sense of involvement and tension between stage and auditorium was quite remarkable – this is why people come – and will continue to come – to live concerts. The players gelled completely to find a real depth of expression and as the opening material returned, punctuated by chilling taps of the bow against the instrument, there was a profound sense of the inevitable coming to pass.

The final work was Tchaikovsky’s second quartet, in F major, less often performed than the first but a more substantial and challenging work. The players made the most of the searching, slow introduction and their rhythmic accuracy and tonal precision in the subsequent Moderato assai allowed the sometimes weighty ideas and their working out to have their full effect. In the inventive scherzo one had to wonder if the ideas might not have been better suited to Tchaikovsky’s famed skills at orchestration but the quartet carried the movement off effectively. No such qualms over the rich and complex slow movement which was given a performance of great nobility and sustained richness of tone, composer and performers pushing the medium to higher and higher levels of intensity. The finale was lighter, but no let-down, and the quartet revelled in its high spirits.

Encores do not always sit comfortably alongside the main programme but on this occasion the Andante Cantabile of Tchaikovsky’s first quartet was a perfect choice and impeccably delivered. The enthusiastic reception was well merited.

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Gareth Jones

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