String Quartet No.4 in D, Op.83
String Quartet in A minor, Op.51/2
Kopelman Quartet [Mikhail Kopelman & Boris Kuschnir (violins), Igor Sulyga (viola) & Mikhail Milman (cello)]
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 21 March, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Drawn from the Borodin and Moscow string quartets and the Moscow Virtuosi, the members of the Kopelman Quartet have almost unparalleled pedigree and experience in Russian chamber music, specifically Shostakovich, whose Fourth String Quartet began this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall.
The musicians’ affinity with his music was immediately obvious in the first movement, an instantaneous tension arising from the ‘drone’ of the tonic note, held for a good two minutes as increasingly fraught melodic lines worked themselves into a spin above it. Thus the initially sunny countenance of Shostakovich’s writing turned sour, the second movement looking inwards as if in an enclosed personal space. All four players were well attuned to the intimacy of the writing, Mikhail Kopelman particularly profound with its thoughtful insights. The last two movements were characteristically uneasy, the music looking nervously over its shoulder and particularly difficult to escape in the Allegretto, while the finale, returning to the home-key and with the same tempo indication, showed signs of shaking off this individual pursuit in sweeping first-violin portamento and dogged cello interjections, which led to a forceful climax. Ultimately this, too, subsided to uneasiness, the Kopelman musicians judging its emotional intensity right through to the serene resolution of the closing bars.
Brahms’s A minor String Quartet showed impressive resolution in its first movement, the players careful not to ‘over voice’ their performance, with its many contrapuntal elements. Instead the workings were laid out for the listener with an attractive lightness, a charming approach that continued to a surprisingly fast Andante. The scherzo – more of an intermezzo – was purposefully inhibited in its outer sections, the music retreating into its shell before the emergence of the skittish trio. This was a little ragged around the edges to begin with, the triplet rhythms eventually well defined. The finale resumed the relative heft of the first movement, with an added strength of purpose and resolve, though again Kopelman led with sweetness of tone, complemented by gritty interjections from Igor Sulyga.
In both performances the Kopelman members displayed near-immaculate ensemble and unity of mind, conveying the essence and intimacy of chamber-music by true instinct.