Borromeo quartet likes to live life on the edge

Special to The Times

The Borromeo String Quartet is trying to end-run the sagging classical recording industry by creating its own product. That's hardly new, but what is unusual is the way it has set about doing so.

Instead of carefully crafting performances in a studio, the quartet has launched the Living Archive Recorded Performance Series through which most of its concerts are recorded for CD, DVD and VHS and sold at As of Tuesday, 102 concerts were available -- and the list continues to grow.

It's a high-risk way to build a reputation -- classical music is so maddeningly exacting -- but when you see this group perform, it makes sense. It is a live act, caught in the moment, not worrying too much about a frayed texture here, an out-of-tune note there, just as long as the music jumps off the page and communicates.

Violinists Nicholas Kitchen and Kristopher Tong, violist Mai Motobuchi and cellist Yeesun Kim get physically involved in their performance -- especially the head-tossing, almost possessed Motobuchi.

On Monday night at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, that added up to livelier than usual performances of the standard-issue chamber music on the program. Mozart's Quartet in G, K. 387, was forward, almost Romantically lush, even feisty in the finale. Dvorak's Quartet in A flat, Op. 105 -- his last -- was treated to bursts of pressing energy, practically leaping into the repeat of the furiant portion of the scherzo.

Janacek's Quartet No. 2 -- another final quartet by a Czech composer -- was made to order for the Borromeos' emotional approach. The quartet's subtitle is "Intimate Letters," and it's an apotheosis of Janacek's mad, unconsummated love for a much younger, not quite comprehending married woman, Kamila Stosslova -- four movements of abrupt tempo changes, idiosyncratically obsessive repetitions and borderline hysteria. The Borromeos captured the high passion and wildness vividly, fearlessly.

Valley Beth Shalom, by the way, is a pretty good acoustical space for the Music Guild's Valley concerts (this is its first season in this venue). With the big main room partitioned off, the sound projects forward with plenty of resonance, aiming right at the listeners instead of hovering over the performers.


Borromeo String Quartet

Where: Main Sanctuary, Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., West L.A.

When: 8 p.m. today

Price: $9 to $28

Contact: (323) 954-0404;

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