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Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010

Romantic Russian Quartets at Wisconsin Conservatory of Music

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As a creative artist, Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) was perhaps the most accomplished of the late-19th-century Russian nationalist composers; his remarkable gifts were evident in nearly every work he wrote. Alas, there aren’t very many, for composing was always merely his part-time job. Indeed, it often took years for works to be finished or—as in the case of his masterpiece, Prince Igor—never be finished at all. But such was not the case with his String Quartet No. 2 in D Major (1881), a piece that flowed rather quickly from Borodin’s pen. Not surprising given his motivation: The D Major Quartet is a love letter to his wife, Ekaterina, an evocation of when they fell in love some two decades earlier. The quartet’s Nocturne is independently famous, given its long, ardent and tender melody.

Quite Borodin’s opposite was Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936), one of Russia’s most prolific composers and a master of classical form. When he was only 16 he produced his Five Novelettes for String Quartet, Op. 15, a colorful work with movements evoking Spain, the Orient, Hungary and, of course, Russia.

Though Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) composed three quartets, his String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 11 (1871) is often thought of simply as the Tchaikovsky quartet, and rightfully so. The Andante cantabile second movement is one of his most beloved creations—a glowingly beautiful rendition of a melancholy Russian folk song.

All three of these works will be performed by the Philomusica
String Quartet at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music on Feb. 7.