04 September, 2008

Concert Review: Borodin String Quartet

2 September, 2008
City Hall

Borodin String Quartet Haydn/Beethoven/Mozart/Tchaikovsky

What we heard was the newest line-up of the quartet. Their previous appearances in HK and Macau still had one original member, the great Valentin Berlinsky, retired and replaced now by much younger Vladimir Balshin. So the oldest member now is the excellent second-violinist Andrei Abramenkov.

The program was unusual in that it was largely non-Russian. For the first half, Haydn's "Lark" and Beethoven's Op 18/2 were played. From the first notes, it was evident the sound of the quartet is now heading in a different direction. Previously, the inimitable Berlinsky was so strong that the quartet had a prominently rhythmic and bold bass line, countered at the top by the bright and occasionally agressive playing of leader Ruben Aahronian. That was a more dynamic sound, with relatively more recessed inner voices. Now, the new cellist, though a marvelous player, is not as bold sounding, and it seems the other members re-tailored the sound. Now, the four strings are much more blended than before, and the soft playing in unison is astonishing, the best of its kind. Leader Aharonian has tempered his forceful playing a little, and I think even reduced his dynamics, though he remains a little "sharp" for those new to this quartet. Now, a first violin statement is not played that forcefully, but the whole ensemble then raise their volume in a crescendo as if there is only one instrument.

The Haydn and Beethoven were played in an unforcful manner that leaned more towards the romantic. Broad and seamless phrasing were preferred. So while the slower movements were miraculously pure, one may have wished for a more forceful attack at times, in either the Haydn (like me) or Beethoven (like my friends). The Minuet and Scherzo were gentle, but if one listened carefully, one would have noticed a not-so-obvious rhythmic savvy, alien from the kind for display.

The second-half opened with Mozart's E-flat, K428, one of those dedicated to Haydn. The playing was much the same as the first half
, though even better, especially the andante, which was pure and singing. Aharonian was also marginally sweeter in tone. This was followed by a rare item, Tchaikovsky's String Quartet Movement in B-flat, a "quartetsatz".

But the best was saved for last, as encore, an ethereal performance of the Andante Catabile from Tchaikovsky's quartet #1. Not at all milked for its juice or sentimental, in its purity it was profound, and I'd never expect to hear it better played in my life.

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