Borodin String Quartet members: Sergei Lomovsky (violin), Vladimir Balshin (cello), Ruben Aharonian (violin) and Igor Naidin (viola).

Borodin Quartet is a  breathtakingly capable and refined quartet instrument. It was a thrill to hear them again in Sydney towards the end of their national concert tour with Musica Viva.

As always, its polished voice delivered the expression of master composers with formidable restraint and precision from the combination of players Ruben Aharonian (violin), Sergei Lomovsky (violin), Igor Naidin (viola)and Vladimir Balshin (cello).

Perfect placement of musical gesture and great synergy of both  the architectural and passionate ambitions of the nineteenth century music were evident during the concert’s first half.

In this half of the concert we heard the legendary string quartet group in Romantic period mode. They delivered clearly the broad emotive textures of Tchaikovsky’s broad expressive palette in his String Quartet No 1 in D major, Op 11 (1871), a quartet with references to previous traditions in the genre and reworkings of Russian folk music.

The supreme focus and blend of the Borodin group voice also showed expert control in sections such as the opening movement. Here parts must move in independent trajectories in order to realise the development of the composer’s emotional and musical statements.

A special moment in this work was the lyricism of the second Andante Cantabile movement.  Ruben Aharonian’s clear and sustained violin line was solidly supported by his colleagues to create a beautifully balanced intimate interlude.

The crisp classical scherzo and joyous finale to this work were full of moments of seamless interplay between instruments. Borodin Quartet’s  performance illuminated why Tchaikovsky’s first foray into this genre was so successful in his lifetime.

Likewise in Hugo Wolf’s sprawling single movement Italian Serenade the quartet delivered the active and fluidly changing textures in the composer’s communication with precision and a clarity which let the music speak with vivid directness to us.

This well-known quartet work, rich in literary reference and transfer of loaded emotional fragments between parts was offered with freshness and exquisite shaping by Borodin’s members. The string players worked as one complex and true voice. There was no self-indulgent overplaying here, only a colourful reading of the score, full of integrity.

Such qualities also imbued the concert’s stunning highlight, being the presentation of Shostakovich’s final string quartet composed in 1974,  String Quartet No 15 inE flat minor Op 144. This evocative statement was effectively performed with chilling poignancy in a dimmed lighting ambience of the City Recital hall.

Borodin Quartet also has a history of close collaboration with Shostakovich over preparation and performance of his string quartet works. This affinity and understanding of Shostakovich’s uniquely rich desolation ensured the sensitivities and intricacies of this quartet were sent into the space as well as our hearts and minds with controlled intensity.

Borodin Quartet especially shone in this work with a fine mastery of soft playing. They were also easily able to employ a huge and varied arsenal of attack, articulation and careful phrasing of even the smallest utterance. The quartet’s security of line and tight ensemble mesh yielded a stunning sequence of atmospheres.

This concert reinforced the reputation and commanding presence of this legendary string quartet on the world stage. thanks to the successful Musica Viva International Concert Series programming, with associated tour and activities, we were once again  fortunate to have Borodin Quartet grace our shores to enrich this country’s musical life.