Glasgow String Quartet
Cottiers Theatre, Glasgow
LAST things first. I fear I have terminally sickened myself of minimalism. Despite a full-blooded performance of Steve Reich's Different Trains by the Glasgow String Quartet (all RSNO players) on Monday night, which was finely pulsed, with all changes of tempo, mood and pace minutely observed, for these ears, the music has lost its edge of raw excitement and its freshness. It's old stuff, historic now: I was doing reduced versions of Reich and Riley pops 30 years ago with kids in Clydebank. It's been done to death, and I'm not convinced either of its staying power, or that it can renew itself. Discuss, as they say in academe. I will later, after an imminent break.
Infinitely more significant on Monday was the group's gripping performance of Shostakovich's Fifth String Quartet, marking the end of the first episode in the Cottier Chamber Project's three-year survey of the composer's 15 String Quartets. Now this was the real McCoy, perceptively played by the GSQ, whose leader, violinist Bill Chandler, took care to point out that this was the beginning of Shostakovich's extensive employment of that motto theme (D-S-C-H are the notes) which was to permeate and haunt much of the composer's music of the period.
And, mesmerisingly played by violinists Chandler and Jacqueline Spiers, with violist Ian Budd and cellist Kennedy Leitch, that iconic strand of Shostakovich's musical DNA moved through the music, affecting every mood and nerve-ending of the piece, whether playful, quirky, provocative, intense, calm or still. Bluntly, it characterised the music, in a very intimate, almost interior manner: at moments I scarcely dared breathe. A spellbinding performance.