Thursday, February 19, 2009

A question of balance

Last night's concert at the Filharmonija was one in a cycle called 'Quartet and Piano', with the State Vilnius String Quartet and the New York-based pianist Andrius Zlabis, playing Shostakovich and Dvorak.

Shostakovich's quintet, op 57, was written in the summer of 1940 - at which time Russia was not at war. I had wondered about the period of its writing, because it seemed quite a subdued piece, apart from the middle movement, with three slow movements and two faster ones.  It has an interesting start, in which the cello plays above all the other instruments. The second movement is described as a fugue, though it seemed more canonical to me. To say that the string quartet played it rather understatedly is a bit of an over-statement.  It was very calm indeed, very very calm - apart from a blistering middle movement. It was so calm that it was often difficult to hear it over the piano. The first violin seemed to have trouble reaching the highest note, missing it every time (out of 3).  There was a moment when I was wondering how this quartet gets to have American tours all the time - though this may be partly due to the Lithuanian diaspora in the US.  But I liked the mournful second movement.

After the interval (I had also moved seats, but surely moving from the side of the small hall to the centre should not make such a difference) the string quartet seemed transformed. It did a lovely performance of the Dvorak op 81 quintet, now clearly audible, with beautiful viola lines. The cello suddenly developed a pulse - almost passion. Nice collaboration with the pianist. This was a very nice performance, though I wondered what the quartet thought about playing Dvorak. It's kind of an intellectual quartet that does not hesitate trying out all sorts of music, and Dvorak is at the edge of populism.  But the bread-and-butter repertoire puts the butter on the bread, I suppose.