String Quartet No.6 in F minor, Op.80
String Quartet No.9 in E flat, Op.117
Atrium Quartet [Alexey Naumenko & Anton Ilyunin (violins), Dmitry Pitulko (viola) & Anna Gorelova (cello)]
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 7 December, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Winners of both the First Prize and Audience Prize of the 2003 LondonInternational String Quartet Competition, the Atrium Quartet recently tookthe honours at the fifth such competition in Bordeaux with its superbaccount of Shostakovich’s Fifth Quartet (one recently issued on Zig-ZagTerritoires in harness with a scarcely less fine account of Beethoven’s’Harp’ Quartet). These musicians first appearance at a Wigmore Hall “Coffee Concert” (the long-established Sunday-morning series) comprised this unlikely but, in the event, highly convincing coupling.
Inspired by the sudden death of his beloved sister Fanny, Mendelssohn’s Fminor Quartet (1847) has recently enjoyed a plethora of performances –younger ensembles no doubt relishing the challenge of its alternatelyviolent and introspective moods rarely associated with this composer. Therewas no lack of the former in a charged opening Allegro or the powerfulrhythmic drive of the scherzo, while the Adagio had an eloquence the moremoving for its restraint and the finale drew on earlier aspects for aheightened apotheosis – Alexey Naumenko soaring above his colleagues withthrilling passion.
Although not among his greatest string quartets, Shostakovich’s Ninth (1964)is one of his most immediately attractive – not least through the way thatit channels its expressive diversity into a continual and cohesive sequence.The Atrium Quartet had the measure of its equivocal opening Moderato – itsintricate textural interplay effortlessly realised, then lacking nothing inelegiac intensity in the first Adagio or stealthy rhythmic motion in theAllegretto. The second Adagio could have done with a degree more emotional intensity (Anton Ilyunin a little too circumspect in his pizzicatooutburst), but the closing Allegro capped the work in suitably powerfulfashion – for all that the headlong drive pursued over the final pagestested the ensemble and unanimity of even these excellent players.
An engrossing performance even so, and the Atrium offered an appropriateencore – the first of the two pieces (1931) which are the youngShostakovich’s only autonomous contribution to the quartet medium. Tenderly played here, it made one anticipate the Atrium Quartet’s next recital at theWigmore Hall.