Leontovych String Quartet Sunday, Oct. 22, The Met
The Spokane Chamber Music Association began its 1995-96 season with an almost-all-Russian program by the Leontovych String Quartet.
Even Beethoven’s “Serioso” Quartet, the sole non-Russian item, was played with a grave, Slavic intensity that extended Beethoven an honorary Russian citizenship.
Members of the group include violinists Yuri Mazurkevich and Yuri Khrenko, violist Boris Deviatov and cellist Vladimir Panteleyev. The Leontovych was formed in 1971, and its newest member joined the quartet in 1991.
Members of the quartet arrived in Spokane only minutes before concert time Sunday afternoon, having driven from Wenatchee, where they performed the same program. They had no time to acquaint themselves with the acoustics of The Met or for a leisurely warm-up period. They just changed clothes, sat down and played.
There were hints of travel-weariness in slight imperfections in intonation in some union and octave passages and, now and again, in some fuzzy attacks. Still, the playing was quite fine, as you might expect of an ensemble whose players have worked together for years.
In Beethoven’s “Serioso” Quartet, the Leontovych players brought responsive sensitivity to the phrasing of numerous dialogues between pairs of players. This responsive interchange was even more crucial to the dense fugal writing in the second movement Allegretto.
After the heavy seriousness pervading this quartet, the Leontovych players gave an impish verve to Beethoven’s rush to the end in the coda of the finale.
The somber mood returned, with an even more mournful cast, in Shostakovich’s despairing Quartet No. 14. Each of the quartet’s players had unaccompanied solos ranging in spirit from concerto cadenzas, operatic recitatives or even suggesting the beginning of Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin. Unlike the Beethoven, there is no happy ending for Shostakovich.
The Leontovych players sustained the composer’s hallucinatory visions - grotesque angularity alternating with moments of glowing radiance. Their performance Sunday was a highly charged, powerful experience.
Following intermission, the fare was lighter.
Myroslav Skoryk is a Ukrainian composer previously unknown to me. But four short movements of Skoryk’s Partita No. 3 seemed pleasantly familiar to a listener who knows his Bartok.
The range of tonal colors using varied pizzicato and bowing effects, the employment of folklike melodies and rhythms, the Bartokian flashes of humor are all there in Skoryk. Missing is the sense of unity and inevitability you hear in Bartok’s work.
Borodin’s Quartet No. 2 sounded like the visit of an old and welcomed friend in the Leontovych performance. No surprises, just a genial conversation with pretty, romantic melodies and some touches of operatic drama.
It was the perfect dessert to a serious meal.