The Hamilton Spectator
Musical postcards from Russia, with love
Shostakovich is not an easy repertoire. But Dmitri Shostakovich with the Lafayette String Quartet would be a very good primer.
And right on cue, the Lafayette’s Shostakovich string quartet primer gets underway on Sunday, April 9 at 2 p.m. in the Hamilton Conservatory, 126 James St. S.
Now in their 30th season, with the same lineup no less, the Lafayettes, who call late violinist Rostislav Dubinsky, ex of the USSR’s legendary Borodin Quartet, their “musical father,” are on quite the Shostakovich bender. In February, they performed all 15 quartets at a Shostakovich symposium at B.C.’s University of Victoria where they’re artists-in-residence. Ditto this week for the K-W Chamber Music Society. At the HCA, they’ll serve up Shosty’s first, fourth, and ninth quartets.
The “First Quartet,” written in Leningrad in mid-1938 when Shostakovich was 31, begins the composer’s 36-year journey in the string quartet medium. Even back then Shostakovich cautioned his listeners, stating, “Don’t expect to find special depth in this, my first quartet opus. In mood, it’s joyful, merry and lyrical. I would call it ‘springlike.’”
With our 20-20 historical hindsight, that “springlike” atmosphere didn’t last long in Shostakovich’s music, and arguably it wasn’t even present in the Zeitgeist of that time. His “Fourth Quartet,” written in 1949, would wait until after Stalin’s death in 1953 to be performed. As for his “Ninth Quartet,” he reputedly burnt the original composed in 1961, and wrote a completely new one in May 1964, dedicating it to his third wife, Irina. Even the casual listener of these two quartets will detect surface connections between them, the Jewish klezmer-like music and the Rossinian “William Tell”-like galloping figures but two examples. Tickets: $27, senior $22, student $15. Call 905-528-4020.
Weinberg is not an easy repertoire. But Mieczyslaw Weinberg with the Quatuor Danel would be an excellent primer.
Now, if you’re wondering who Mieczyslaw Weinberg is, you’re not alone. Briefly, he was born to Jewish parents in 1919, and made a harrowing escape from his native Warsaw in 1939, heading east, first to Minsk where he continued his musical studies, then to Tashkent in 1941. With Shostakovich’s help, he settled in Moscow in 1943 where he lived until his death in 1996. Weinberg’s catalogue consists of some 154 opuses, including 17 string quartets, a medium in which he had a friendly rivalry with Shostakovich, as well as over 80 scores for radio programs, circus shows, plays, feature films, and cartoon films, most notably “Winnie-the-Pooh,” which has been heard by untold numbers of Russian kids from 1969 onward.
In his day, Weinberg’s music was performed by the crème de la crème of Soviet musicians. Weinberg’s daughter from his first marriage, Victoria Bishops, who now lives in Toronto along with her daughter Katia, fondly remembers those starry years.
“The best musicians of the time such as Rostropovich, Kogan, Gilels used to gather in our apartment after concerts,” wrote Bishops to The Spectator. “His circle of friends was very tight and sealed, and in it were Kondrashin, Barshai, Rostropovich, and Valentin Berlinsky (of the Borodins). Shostakovich was also a regular guest at our flat.”
Yet, precious little of Weinberg’s music made its way over the Iron Curtain during his lifetime. According to Bishops, in the early 1960s, (likely 1963) Soviet pianist Marina Mdivani, now an associate prof at McGill, performed his sonatas in Canada, and in the early 1980s the “Sixth Symphony” was performed in Israel, and a cello sonata was performed in the U.S.
The Quatuor Danel, quartet-inresidence at U of Manchester and Tivoli-Vredenburg in Utrecht, have recorded the Weinberg cycle for the CPO label. Like the Lafayettes, the Brussels-Paris based Danels also have a connection to the Borodins: they studied Shostakovich’s quartets with them, and it was their cellist, Berlinsky, who turned them on to Weinberg.
At first blush, Weinberg may sound like a musical “Shostakovich Mini-Me.” But that is not the case in spite of some influences between the two. You’ll be able to hear that for yourself on Sunday, April 16 at 2 p.m., when the Danels perform the Scherzo from Weinberg’s 1945 “Fifth Quartet” as well as the Allegretto from the “Seventh Quartet” along with Shostakovich’s 1946 “Third Quartet” under the auspices of Chamber Music Hamilton in the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s Joey & Toby Tanenbaum Pavilion, 123 King St. W.
The bill will also include P.I. Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile from the “First Quartet,” Alexander Borodin’s Nocturne from the “Second Quartet” (you’ll know it from “Kismet”), and the “First Quartet” (1957) by a then 18-yearold Boris Tishchenko, a future Shostakovich student.
“We call this program ‘From Russia with Love,’” wrote the Danel’s Romanian-born violist, Vlad Bogdanas, to The Spectator. “That’s because the first half is like a postcard that shows a few distinctive pictures of the Russian repertoire. The idea with the two Weinberg movements was to present two contrasted images of this unfairly forgotten composer.”
Tickets: $30, senior $27, student $10. Call 905-525-7429.