Wigmore Hall Shostakovich Quartets – 1

String Quartet No.6 in G, Op.101
String Quartet No.13 in B flat minor, Op.138
String Quartet No.3 in F, Op.73

Aviv String Quartet
[Sergey Ostrovsky & Evgenia Ephstein (violins); Shuli Waterman (viola) & Rachel Mercer (cello)]

Reviewed by: Josh Meggitt

Reviewed: 17 January, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The first concert in the Wigmore Hall’s survey of Shostakovich’s string quartets, which is being shared between the Aviv and Jerusalem quartets.

The Sixth Quartet is, like many, a slippery piece, gliding between tonal passages of sunny nostalgia and vague, shadowy moments. The Aviv was immediately on form, cellist Rachel Mercer producing powerfully rich tones and almost removing herself to a separate plane from the higher strings which added to the mood of bemused detachment characterising this performance. The subdued second movement, difficult to animate with its almost unvaried piano, and the following mournful slow movement, were not completely successful; the dance-filled finale was far more convincing.

Quartet No.13 is one of Shostakovich’s more overtly challenging works with its serial tone rows, metronomic pulse, and relentlessly pessimistic single-movement structure. Here the spotlight is on the violist, dedicated as the work was to Vadim Borisovsky, violist of the Beethoven Quartet which premiered most of Shostakovich’s quartets. Given ample room in the slower sections, which move into lurching, rhythmic triads evocative of slow-motion Stravinsky, the Aviv gave a wonderfully balanced performance. The final few notes, piercingly high pitched, were revelatory – Ostrovsky’s playing was sublime, a shard of glass.

This programme concluded with the more upbeat and immediately engaging Quartet No.3. The Classical, Haydnesque underpinnings in this work are obvious, but are dealt with in a very personal manner – tonal passages become slanted and skewed; melodic fragments veer off in unexpected directions; questions remain unanswered. The Aviv Quartet was here at its strongest; yet there seemed something preventing the music from coming to life – the playing perfect but stiff.

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