Borodin Quartet

FRANK CLIFF John Innes Centre, Norwich


John Innes Centre, Norwich

The complete cycle of Shostakovich Quartets came to an end on Saturday with the closing bars of No 15 and a standing ovation for the Borodin Quartet.

Five concerts over eight days proved the right space of time in which to listen to these works, allowing us to savour, rather in the manner of a retrospective exhibition, the essence of the music.

It is common to view the quartet as revealing Shostakovich's private self, though what this cycle has principally revealed has been the sheer diversity, its violent shifts of emotion and especially the almost alien qualities of its Russian roots.

This pervasive quality is what makes the Borodin's readings so special, together with the legacy of their collaboration with the composer in preparing these works for performance, maintained by the quartet's octogenarian cellist Berlinsky.

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There had been excellent performances of the early quartets, culminating on Wednesday with the eighth, dedicated to the victims of fascism and war.

The last six marked a turning point for the aging Shostakovich towards an increasingly bleak musical landscape, and in these works the Borodin raised their playing to an even higher standard. The culmination came with No 15, that seems haunted by a spectre of death that was totally compelling.

It felt, as it should, like the end of a long journey and the standing ovation the Borodin received showed how much the audience, who have packed the John Innes Centre, have taken these performers, and this music, to the heart.