Moscow String Quartet on overdrive

May 15, 2011

If you like your Tchaikovsky over-wrought, then the Library of Congress’s Coolidge Auditorium was the place to be Friday evening, when members of the Moscow String Quartet and guest pianist Tigran Alikhanov collaborated on a performance of the Tchaikovsky A Minor Trio that ran the gamut of dynamics from loud to loudest and of emotions from passionate to frantic. Led by violinist Eugenia Alikhanova, whose powerful straight tone set the mark high for the rest of the ensemble, there was never a moment of repose or of reflection in the performance as this elegy, written in memory of pianist Nikolai Rubenstein, wended its way through 50 minutes of determined exposition and variation. It may be that this tough-love approach is a legitimate take on Tchaikovsky, but it isn’t a particularly appealing or enlightening one, and it left unexplored so many opportunities for subtlety and beauty.

Alikhanov and the full quartet gave a much more varied and imaginative reading of the Taneyev G Minor Piano Quintet that followed intermission. Where they chose to play quietly, as they did in the development section of the first movement and the splendidly coordinated spiccatos of the second, textures could be appreciate for the first time. Second violinist Galina Kokhanovskaia, violist Tatiana Kokhanovskaia and cellist Olga Ogranovitch took on roles of equal partners, and the ensemble sparkled.

The almost Baroque-sounding third-movement Passacaglia gathered in complexity but never lost its sense of direction, and its confluence of ascending and descending scales, growing quieter as they drew apart, brought the movement to the feeling of an inevitable resolution. The finale, as finales tend to do here in town, brought the audience to its feet.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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