The St. Petersburg Quartet soared at Mepkin Abbey
The constant rain on Saturday in no way deterred a capacity crowd from trekking up to the beautiful seclusion of Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner for the St. Petersburg String Quartet’s outstanding performance. Both rain and music struck a balance, making this concert a most fitting tribute to the late Abbot. The gloom of a grey sky balanced with the welcome rain, and the turmoil of Shostakovich balanced with the folk-based romanticism of Dvorák.
A hush fell over the church precisely at 2 p.m. The new Abbot, Father Stan, welcomed all and promised that Mepkin Abbey will continue this concert series in the future. Ellen Dressler Moryl then introduced the St. Petersburg String Quartet by saying, “We humbly dedicate this to Francis Kline.”
The opening notes of Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 quietly filled the church with a delicate longing and stately grandeur. As the other musicians entered, a precise sense of balance emerged among these four very distinct voices. The St. Petersburg gang grasped this elusive yet fruitful sense as home, letting it slightly loosen for oh, say maybe only two notes later in the concert. But the Largo sighed its plaintive introduction with such an extreme attention to dynamic nuance, even the droning chords near its ending sounded alive and full of breath. And then…
A nanosecond of silence that stretched to eternity separated the Largo from the Allegro molto, leaving no time to catch one’s breath before this movement’s spiral rush of chaos, anger, and confusion swept the contemplative nature of the first movement away and dared one, “Deal with this!” The SPQ’s emphasis during this tricky movement was squarely on the allegro, and the fast clip accentuated its swirling character. Through this mad dive, their amazing dynamic control ignited a passionate fire that may still be smouldering away up at the abbey.
Shostakovich’s mad waltz of an Allegretto follows, catching that fire and focusing it on a more malleable melody. Of particular note throughout this movement was Leonid Shukayev’s cello lines. Spot on throughout, he ended each with subtle changes in tone that perfectly complemented wherever the melody headed next.
This quartet ends with two movements, both marked Largo, that plunge the passionate intensity of the preceding music into a more quiet, yet equally intense space. The first of these two movements showcased once again how these four musicians with highly individualistic tonal characteristics meld into a living, breathing, single unit. As the final Largo built, open and full of breath, it was hard to keep one’s mind on just the music. This was a very special experience. And there was still more to come!
After a brief pause for tuning, the trills and rocket-like themes that begin Antonin Dvorák’s String Quartet No. 12, known as the “American,” filled the church with their happier, yet no less profound beauty. While Shostakovich creates a block of sound that functions as a whole, Dvorák creates that time-honoured convention of a string quartet functioning as a conversation. And what a talk! Plaintive lines from first violinist Alla Aranovskaya slowly gave way to quicker thoughts from everyone, with trills of announcement as the conversation took a turn. As the Allegro ma non troppo progressed, the highly individualistic nature of each musicians tone wove a tightly knit tapestry that shimmered with delight.
And then, the Lento. A hauntingly beautiful theme, played here with gorgeously muted ferocity. Like much of Dvorák’s output, it seems to be from a neverland that skirts the edges of several musical traditions while leaving one to guess what his inspiration might have been. The lines of harmony between Alla Aranovskaya and second violin Alla Krolevich spoke perfectly together, creating a relentless sense of longing suffused with hope, while violist Boris Vayner’s answers took them to a darker and richer place.
The Molto vivace remained spirited even when its colours shift to the minor. The SPQ chose to place emphasis on the molto, giving it an easy pace that beautifully brought out Dvorák’s keen sense of melody.
The Finale. Vivace, ma non troppo found a true vivace pace and arced a joyful race through the church. Its slower and more muted sections did nothing to dampen the fire of its passionate arc. The protracted ending, a wonderfully robust blast of chords, led to an almost instantaneous standing ovation.
But the SPQ wasn’t done with us yet! After their bows, they came back to play Alexander Borodin’s Nocturna. Alla Aranovskaya dedicated it to Abbot Kline. Its sweetly plaintive melody passed from instrument to instrument and brought this excellent concert to a passionate yet reverent end.
St. Petersburg String Quartet • Piccolo Spoleto Mepkin Abbey Concerts