MUSIC REVIEW : String Quartet Sweeps Through History

When the St. Petersburg String Quartet made its Los Angeles debut Monday at Pierce College, the musicians managed to cover, with just three works, a telling swath of historical ground.

Nineteenth-Century Russian romanticism came courtesy of Borodin's second String Quartet, the tuneful work co-opted by Broadway for 1953's "Kismet." Contemporary Georgian composer Zurab Nadarejshvili's mesmerizing first String Quartet of 1983 commemorated the World War II battle scars of his people. Finally, Shostakovich's Piano Quintet in G Minor, having earned the dubious honor of the Stalin Prize, was written in 1940 but seems to look forward to the 1990s and backward to the 1880s.

Borodin's work, though played with the quartet's typical exacting articulation and controlled passion, was tepid by comparison to the other works. The quartet, joined by pianist Mack McCray, held forth boldly on the mercurial Shostakovich piece, alternately solemn and sensuous.

But the high point was Nadarejshvili's quartet, in its West Coast premiere. This is a powerful and atmospheric lament, somewhat reminiscent of Estonian Arvo Part's music. Its three movements are framed by pensive, sublime sections in which haunting drone tones blend with broken shards of Georgian folk themes. In the middle section, animation yields to agitation, in a polytonal manner bowing to Stravinsky.

All in all, it was a bold, moving dose of music. The program, opening the Music Guild's 51st season, was repeated Tuesday at Cal State Long Beach and will be presented again tonight at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre.

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