Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
With some internationally acclaimed classical string quartets an individual musician’s instrumental voice sets the tone or rises – just a little bit – above the others in any given composition performed.
Listening to the Borromeo String Quartet within the marvellous acoustic space of the College of Saint Rose’s Picotte Recital Hall, I realized very quickly that that is not the case with this stellar foursome.
Violinists Nicholas Kitchen and Kristopher Tong, cellist Yeesun Kim and viola player Mai Motobuchi performed together with one musical mind and spirit. The technical mastery each artist had over their individual instrument was frighteningly close to the embodiment of what we understand to be “perfection.” Collectively they were the personification of musical precision and dynamic grace within the classical music idiom.
Maybe this is a product of the comfort and luxury of playing together for more than 20 years. Maybe it’s because the quartet performs over 100 concerts a year, across three continents. Or, maybe, it has something to do with the seamless fusion of these four individual musical voices that are still listening to one another after collaborating for more than two decades.
Though violinist Kitchen acted as the front man when he introduced the pieces and provided information on the composers or the group’s encounters with the compositions, he, like his compatriots, was ego-less in bringing the music to life.
Kicking off the first set with a healthy dose of Johannes Brahms, the quartet navigated, “Lo how a rose e’r blooming (Chorale Prelude Op. 122),” arranged for string quartet by Kitchen with the precision of a seasoned ship captain easily traversing the Straits of Gibraltar.
With sublime dynamic control, the group performed a beautiful new work, “Chorale Fantasy for string quartet,” commissioned by the quartet from a relatively unknown composer, Mohommed Fairouz.
They finished out their first set with “String Quartet in F Major, Op. 96 (The American Quartet)” by Antonin Dvorak. The composition’s four movements ran the gamut of dynamic contrasts from subtle melodic lines to powerful, room-filling crescendos.
During the intermission many an audience member may have cast a longing glance at how beautiful and sunny it was outside that afternoon (the matinee concert started at 3pm), but none bemoaned the fact that they were there inside the Massry Center on that lovely Sunday listening to a mesmerizing performance by the Borromeo String Quartet.
In fact, many couldn’t wait to hear them tackle Franz Schubert’s “String Quartet in d minor D. 810 (Death and the Maiden)” in the second half of the program.
Excerpt from Gerladine Freedman’s review at The Daily Gazette: “The four movements of Schubert’s quartet had everything a listener could want: drama, intensity, passion, delicacy, exceptional lyricism and interesting lines. The Borromeo played with a controlled abandon that was not only immaculate but left the audience wanting more. Sadly, no encore this time.”