Saturday, 3 January 2009

A valediction for Valya


First message on the answerphone when we arrived back from the remoteness of our Cyprus retreat was from Robert White of The Guardian, telling me my already-filed obituary of Valentin Berlinsky (photographed above by Stanley Fefferman) was up and running on the website, and asking me whether I'd like to change or add anything.

That was the first I heard of Valya's death at the age of 83. It also came as a surprise to me since the patriarch of the world's longest-running chamber ensemble, the Borodin String Quartet, seemed oddly immortal, even if he'd only recently retired from the group of which he was a founder member back in 1945. Ever since I first saw it in the programme for the Quartet's 55th anniversary in Moscow - which was also Berlinsky's 75th birthday - I've always loved and drawn people's attention to this photograph from 1946:


There we see Berlinsky, second from the left, as a dreamy, shock-headed youth standing around Shostakovich with first violinist Rostislav Dubinsky and Barshais Nina and Rudolf.

That anniversary event on 19 January 2000 was a wild, intermittently wonderful event. It's true that the Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence Sextet with Uri Bashmet and Stefan Metz joining the Borodins hadn't been terribly well rehearsed - I seem to remember Bashmet had only flown in that afternoon - and it's not a piece you can wing, but the inevitable Second Quartet of the group's namesake brought tears to the eyes as usual and the second half featured what to our non-Russian eyes and ears seemed like some outlandish tributes aimed specifically at Berlinsky: piano pieces, Pushkin recitations and a fine ensemble of young cellists Berlinsky had taught at the Gnessin Institute.

I was initially a little nervous under the seemingly benevolent but always watchful eye of the master, though relative newcomer Igor Naidin, the viola-player of the Quartet and Berlinsky's junior by 46 years, was a relaxed intermediary. Later I got to know them better both in London and at the Austrian Attersee Festival, where staying in a simple local inn seemed to put everyone, even the solemn Abramenkov, at their ease.

I'll leave details of Berlinsky's life, and some of the pithier utterances I was lucky to glean, to the above obit. But it is a loss - maybe not as wrenching a goodbye as the one to Slava Rostropovich, but the end of an era all the same.

4 comments:

JVaughan said...

Greetings Again!:

Yet further, if I have yet to extend such, my best for 2009!

So you knew Maestro Rostropovich as well? As you presumably know, he was Music Director of our National Symphony for a number of years, and I met him at least a few times early on, though never got to know him well enough to receive his famous kisses. He was indeed a kind man, and, though I own and play the Wallfisch/Mackerras recording of the Dvorak _Concerto_, "Slava"'s with the Boston Symphony may be marginally finer. I have him in the two Brahms _Sonatas_, though I recall at least some of his recorded Tchaikovsky as a conductor being rather on the slow and dull side.

This gives me hopefully-convenient opportunity to ask, should I end up buying one, which recording of Prokofiev's _Romeo_ _And_ _Juliet_ you prefer.

J. V.

p.s. I was reading some reviews on that popular Internet buying page yesterday, and am now more convinced than ever that, should I buy an _Ariadne_, the Kempe is the one I should get!

david said...

And greetings to you. I was lucky enough to interview Slava three times, and though I sometimes got a slightly different version of the same story twice, he was always hugely entertaining, and the energy was invigorating. I've never been so shaken up by the death of an artist as I was by his - as I think I mentioned in the blog back in April 2008, a year on - and I couldn't stop playing his recordings.

In selecting tracks for the Radio 3 tribute we made on the day of his death, I found that the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata with Britten at the piano, Prokofiev Sonata with Richter and, of course, the slow movement of the Dvorak especially impressed listeners. His way with the latter isn't the only interpretation by any means, and perhaps a little far from what the composer might have expected, but I do love his broad and noble recording with Giulini.

Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet - complete, Ermler (though Gergiev's with the LSO 'live' will be released later this year); excerpts, Abbado and the Berlin Phil on DG.

JVaughan said...

There can be _NO_ doubt about Maestro Rostropovich's energy and enthusiasm? Did his approach to the Dvorak change significantly over the years, or is what I heard in the Ozawa recording substantially the same as what I would hear were I to listen to the Giulini (I honestly was not aware that he had recorded it with him, tthough I do know that he recorded it several times throughout his career)?

I do not recall ever having heard of Maestro Ermler. Maestro Gergiev's current tenure with the LSO seems controversial at best, though, while not knowing his work intimately, there seems to be no doubt as to his passion.

J. V.

p.s. The question mark at the end of my first sentence was a typographical (or rather an unthinking) error.

JVaughan said...

I enjoy some of Maestro Abbado's Mozart, particularly the _Requiem_ despite his chorus seeming somewhat detached in places at least. I like the style, and his "mix and match" approach to the edition seems to work as well.
And he has Mr. Terfel!