Concert Review : Borodin Quartet [and friends] – Elegy – 13 Oct 2018 | The Flying Inkpot

from left to right – Chan Yoong-Han, Chikako Sasaki, Igor Naidin, Ng Pei-Sian, Vladimir Balshin

SCHUBERT String Quintet in C major, D. 956

  • Chan Yoong-Han, violin I
  • Chikako Sasaki, violin II
  • Igor Naidin, viola 
  • Vladimir Balshin, cello I
  • Ng Pei-Sian, cello II
  • SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57

    • Margit Saur, violin I
    • Sergei Lomovsky, violin II
    • Igor Naidin, viola
    • Wang Yan, cello
    • Lim Yan, piano

      Saturday, 13 Oct 2018, Victoria Concert Hall

    SSO Tickets for TFI classical music reviewers have been kindly sponsored by Singapore Symphony Group

    Review by Derek Lim

    Music is a game that defies all laws of arithmetics – 2+3 doesn’t always equal 5, and depending on the dynamics between the components that you’re adding together, the results could be vastly different. Tonight’s concert was a fascinating look at just how.

    For this evening, two different members of the famous Borodin Quartet teamed up with two different groups of musicians of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Schubert’s monumental ‘cello’ quintet formed the long first half, with the Borodin’s violist, Igor Naidin, and cellist, Vladimir Balshin, playing with Chan Yoong-Han (violin I and SSO’s 4th chair first violin), Chikako Sasaki (violin II) and Ng Pei-Sian (cello II and SSO’s principal cellist), all seasoned musicians with significant chamber music experience in their own right.

    Given rather reverential treatment, the first movement Allegro ma non troppo lacked fire, though the musicians here were technically more secure compared to the Shostakovich. Taking somewhat measured tempi, the music-making felt too tightly-wound to be enjoyable, lacking the easy give-and-take, free-flowing character that comes with the best chamber performances. Temperament was muted, even in the turbulent, angry development section.

    The tear-laden second movement Adagio found some real magic in its opening, with lovely, shimmering string tone from everyone, but later, despite Chan’s sweet tone and musicality, the somewhat bright first violin figurations on the first string didn’t quite gel with the other strings’ darker tonal quality. Elsewhere, you could feel the SSO musicians holding themselves back against the Borodin’s duo, with even the Sturm and Drang section coming off as rather placid.

    It was in the Scherzo that the performance came into its own – as if they had finally warmed up to each other. Vigorously and brilliantly played, the Scherzo still emphasized refinement over temperament, but the quintet’s playing finally became more comfortable, with some dark, chocolatey playing in the prayer-like trio section. The return of the main theme showed glimpses of the lovely music-making that was to come in the Finale.

    This last movement was the most successful all-round, with Chan asserting himself here, nimbly negotiating Schubert’s virtuosic figuration, and the trenchant rhythms of the Hungarian first theme contrasting against the gemütlich Schubertian grace of the second theme – it was all very musical, very relaxed, with lots of charm.

    from left to right – Igor Naidin, Sergei Lomovsky, Lim Yan, Wang Yan, Margit Saur

    The second half had the Borodin’s violist, Igor Naidin, and second violinist Sergei Lomovsky team up with Margit Saur (violin I), Wang Yan (cello) and Lim Yan (piano) to play Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet. The Borodin Quartet’s historical relationship with this five-movement work goes back to its collaboration with the composer – they played it with him eight times, and their interpretation bears an undeniable stamp of authority.

    All of this would have been for naught if their collaborators had been anything less than competent. Lim Yan, Singapore’s now go-to collaborator after Shane Thio, held his own in every respect and was commanding and authoritative from the opening chords. A perfect chamber partner, he knew exactly when to accompany and when to assert himself, opting for a percussive approach in the upper register that Shostakovich would have approved of.  

    While there were issues with Saur’s and Wang’s first entries, these were quickly swept aside for an interpretation that was alive and deeply moving, with much freer music-making than in the Schubert. Saur’s silvery tone played well with the other strings, with attractive phrasing, while Naidin’s always-commanding viola made its mark in his solos. The second movement Fugue was particularly affecting, with a concentration that made it feel even more unremittingly bleak.

    The Scherzo was perhaps less sardonic than other interpretations, but remained brilliant, while the fourth movement, Intermezzo-Lento, took on a symphonic scale that was a throwback to Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, written not long before this. There was plenty of warmth in the strings, both in solo as well as in duo combinations. The Finale, optimistic in that very uniquely Shostakovichian way, was comforting, cheery even, with Lim Yan playing off the quartet masterfully to end a memorable, multi-faceted performance.

    Noise rating – 3 out of 5 
    The audience clapping after nearly every single movement – two women texting and talking to the right of this reviewer. And that weird rumbling sound in the first two movements of the Schubert – was there a wedding happening downstairs?

    The Noise Rating Index is a partially objective measurement of smartphone rings, 9pm and 10pm watch beeps, coughing-during-the-pianissimo-bits and other really inept noises emitted in the concert hall during the music itself. It is measured on a scale of 0 to 5, in increasing annoyance.

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