In this broadcast you’ll hear Stravinsky, Shostakovich, and Mendelssohn performed by two formidably talented string quartets, American and Viennese: the Borromeo, with pianist Wu Han, and the Artis Quartet Wien.
Explore What's Behind the Music
Shostakovich's Piano Quintet in G Minor" The Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57, of Shostakovich is very much a reflection of the composer’s mindset at the time of its composition in 1940, when most of Europe was already at war. Shostakovich drew parallels between the current situation and Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov, which he was re-orchestrating at the time. View Shostakovich's Quintet
Borromeo String Quartet: Considered "Simply the best there is" by the Boston Globe, the Borromeo String Quartet is one of the world’s most sought-after quartets for both classical and contemporary repertoire. The group has won a number of prestigious awards, including Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award and the coveted Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2007. The Borromeo’s pioneering Living Archive project offers its stellar recordings directly to music lovers around the globe.
The Artis Quartett Wien: The Artis Quartett Wien is presented by prestigious international festivals and venues, including the Salzburger Festspiele, and Vienna’s historic MusikVerein. Notable recent projects include a cycle of all 23 Mozart quartets, and the complete Schubert quartets at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw.
Pianist Wu Han: Pianist Wu Han has garnered an enviable reputation for brilliant, impassioned performances at prestigious venues worldwide, in recital and as a soloist with orchestra, as well as with cellist David Finckel, with whom she shares the directorship of two of the nation’s leading concert presenters: the Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center and Music at Menlo series.
Notes on the works performed
The Concertino was written while Stravinsky was vacationing at Carantec, Brittany, in the summer of 1920. It was finished on September 24. (In 1952, he reworked the piece for 12 instruments—ten winds, violin and cello.) One of the early works of his Neo-classical period, the Concertino reflects the 18th-century virtues of "clarity, emotional restraint, detachment, and objectivity." It is the second of his two works for four strings, the first being his Three Pieces for String Quartet (1914.) Both works follow what the composer described as "Apollonian principles," a departure from the "richly decorative and elemental" ballet scores that catapulted him to notoriety and subsequent fame: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913.)
The Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57, of Shostakovich—like his fifteen string quartets and the rest of his oeuvre—is very much a reflection of the composer's mind set at the time of its composition in 1940, when most of Europe was already at war. Despite the imminence of Nazi invasion, the Stalinist government continued to give the nation official reassurances that Hitler would honor the non-aggression pact he and Stalin had signed. Shostakovich drew parallels between the current situation and Mussorgsky's opera Boris Godunov, which he was re-orchestrating at the time. "Chaos and state collapse lay ahead, as prophesied by the last two scenes of the opera. I expected it to happen in 1939 …. It was clear to everyone that war was coming, sooner or later it was coming. And I thought it would follow the plot of Boris Godunov … The time of troubles was ahead."
Published posthumously in 1850, Mendelssohn's op. 81 is not a string quartet, but an omnium gatherum put together by the publisher. Unlike a string quartet wherein the various movements are organically related, op. 81 is a miscellaneous collection of four musical works written at various times with different musical intentions and styles. The four works are often performed individually, without any regard for the publisher's chronology.
Written in November 1827, during the composer's period of "first maturity," the Fugue in E-flat Major is, in fact, the earliest of the four pieces. The autograph is dated only a few days after Mendelssohn completed his String Quartet in A minor, op. 13. Two years earlier, he had composed his acknowledged first masterpiece, the Octet, op. 20 (the autograph score is part of the Gertrude Clarke Whittall Collection in the Library of Congress.) But while both opp. 13 and 20, as well as the String Quartet in E-flat, op. 12, composed in 1829, represent the achievements of a child prodigy, the Fugue belongs to a group of student exercises that the eighteen-year-old composer wrote for his teacher Carl Friedrich Zelter (including the first string quartet of 1823, published posthumously in 1879 without an opus number.
The Borromeo String Quartet recorded these Stravinsky and Shostakovich performances at the Library on May 18, 2007. The Mendelssohn Fugue was recorded by the Artis-Quartett Wien on February 28, 2007.
—Tomás C. Hernández