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The Borromeo String Quartet Do Some Foreshadowing on the Upper West

A Boston institution (and once a New York one during their two-year Lincoln Center residency a while back), the Borromeo String Quartet played Webern, Bartok and Beethoven with a warm familiarity and a soulfulness last night at the upper west side’s Music Mondays series. They know this material, and they get it.

Anton Webern’s Langsam Satz was the opening piece and was delivered with late-summer lustre, heavy on the vibrato. It’s basically an increasingly complex series of permutations on a simple, memorable four-note riff, making its way around the ensemble as it gently shifted shape. The Tschaikovskian second movement featured strikingly boisterous pizzicato phrasing from violist Mai Motobuchi, after which the group brought it back down to a warm cantabile mood.

Bartok’s Sixth String Quartet made a sharp contrast, and received a marvelously subtle treatment. This one doesn’t have the outright wrath of much of the composer’s work but it’s full of satire and a pervasive unease that quickly makes itself utterly inescapable. If Sartre’s Huis Clos had a soundtrack, this could be it. Cellist Yeesun Kim plowed deeply into the resonant introduction and brought the rest of the ensemble along as they alternated ominous atmospherics and slightly furtive embellishments. Violinists Nicholas Kitchen and Kristopher Tong built a distant whirlwind on the second movement; the third, a twisted dance, had alarms going off, signaling the approach of what appears to be a satirical version of the kind of pretty nocturne exemplified by the Webern. A series of perfectly precise violin overtones signaled in the completely counterintuitive, calm ending: seventy years later, Bartok is still a car-length or two ahead of most composers.

They closed with Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 92. For the composer, it was something of a landmark, signaling the development of a wholly original sound, in the process shifting the paradigm away from the predictable call-and-response of Haydn that he’d emulated up to that point. It’s a clinic in tension between apprehensive, fiery, Vivaldiesque crescendos and smoothly swaying teutonic phrasing, darkly shadowed by its lower tonalities, and the quartet let those contrasts speak for themselves. In a way, it was the perfect piece to follow the first two because it synthesizes the emotional content explored by each: Bartok’s disquiet and Webern’s optimistic solidity. And like them, it ended warmly, in the style of a Bach cantata: a somewhat triumphant song without words that tacked an unexpectedly happy ending on after all foreshadowing to the contrary. With its brisk dynamic changes and fluid runs that border on the torrential, it’s not easy to play, but the Borromeos made it seem that way. The next Music Mondays concert at the dual-congregation church at 93rd and Broadway is December 13 featuring the Sospiro Winds plus violinist Miranda Cuckson and pianist Aaron Wunsch, playing music of Gyorgi Ligeti.

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November 9, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Borromeo String Quartet at Jordan Hall, Boston MA 11/30/09

The Borromeo String Quartet hardly need the press, but it was awfully nice to be able to catch them in concert. As expected, they brought an element of transcendence to what was, at least from this particular vantage point, a crazy weekend. And it was encouraging to see a good crowd come out for what was a characteristically adventurous bill, cold drizzle and all, a program as captivating as it was elegantly nightmarish. They opened with Mohammed Fairouz’  ambient, aptly titled Lamentation and Satire, the first part a tone poem whose tensely acidic counterpoint moved between restrained mournfulness and full-out grief, the second featuring cellist Yeesun Kim expertly walking a tightrope between the swirling violins of Nicholas Kitchen and Kristopher Tong up to a couple of devious false endings, and a bell-like staccato device on the cello that despite itself reverted to the anguish and loss of the preceding segment.

The ensemble has been recording the complete Gunther Schuller quartets. Monday’s choice was the Second, hypnotic, ambient and off-kilter with a Messiaenesque defiance of any kind of consonant harmony, particularly the abrasive, aggressive second movement with its brief, jazzlike solos around the horn. The anxiety never let up, all the way through to the final lento passage where each soloist got to leave the stage in turn, cello ending it with a pizzicato funeral bell.

They ended the night with Bartok’s Fourth String Quartet. It’s a snidely provocative piece, opening with the same kind of savagery and wrath as Bartok’s First, but it’s also full of fun and the group accentuated that.  Several of its passages – a series of faux Romantic codas, a furtively swirling “dance” and the chase scene that sets off the final movement – would make a very effective biography of a really annoying, blustery individual. But there’s also the remarkable third movement that comes in as a complete surprise on the heels of an offhandedly vicious cello solo, cantabile yet upbeat. And then the Nutcracker-esque pizzicato fourth movement, as caustic and dismissive as it was bouncy and amusing. And the long, disembodied crescendo of the final movement, building to the flourishes of a false ending slapped aside by the menacing growl of the cello.

The Borromeo String Quartet remain ensconsed in Boston (at the New England Conservatory and the Gardner Museum) after a long run at Lincoln Center; their next performance is a selection of Haydn quartets on December 13 at 2 PM at the Forsyth Chapel in Jamaica Plain, MA.

December 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment