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Notes from Istanbul: Tricontinental Dvořák with Borusan Quartet

The Borusan Quartet consists of four former first chairs of the Borusan Philharmonic: Esen Kivrak and Olgu Kizilay (violins), Efdal Altun (viola), and Çağ Erçağ (cello). Some time into their chamber music exploits they gave up performing in the orchestra and focused on the quartet entirely. A wise decision: All too often chamber-music-as-a-side-project produces horribly mediocre results. And the Borusan’s Dvořák program at the Süreyya Opera House in Kadıköy wasn’t mediocre at all.

True, the first violinist didn’t display a particularly rich or beautiful tone, nor rock-solid intonation. Attacks where a little wimpy and the fourth movement of the “American” Quartet op.96 (by the European Antonín Dvořák, performed on the Asian side of Istanbul) was sapped of energy. The ensemble sound had its thin moments, too, but then the playing was clean and together except for a brief moment of the first movement in the Piano Quintet (op.81) through which Itamar Golan coolly steered the players. But even without the assurance of a local critic that this wasn’t their best night by far, the Yays would have outnumbered the Nays in the perfectly acceptable acoustic of the little charming—yes: carpeted—opera house.

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A.Dvořák, PQ5t op.81, SQ4t op.96,
Jerusalem Quartet
Harmonia Mundi

Accents and ornamentations in the Dvořák quartet were played quite differently than one is used to hearing—an individual difference perhaps, but it’s hard to resist the temptation of attributing it to the cultural difference in the perception of rhythms. In any case, it gave a lovely and subtle sense of the original to the reasonably often performed piece. Most of all, the quartet can boast a truly exceptional cellist. Çağ Erçağ’s secure intonation, his delivery in the Lento of the quartet, his absolutely gorgeous tone make mark him as truly world class, not just “Bon pour L’Orient” (as goes the bigoted French phrase for ‘good enough for Turkey and beyond’): A cello-talent no less than his extraordinary countryman Efe Baltacigil. Efdal Altun raspy and muted chocolately viola tone fit in nicely to the butter soft piano sound that Itamar Golan elicited from the Steinway, each note with a little halo around its head, and round like sea-washed pebbles—except for a brief turn to the acerbic in the quicker tutti passages of the quintet.

Very happily there was little to no coughing between movements—a pleasant contrast to the perennially bronchitic Munich or Washington concert societies. Instead there was applause: The Allegro and Scherzo movements of the Quintet, for example, were applauded; the Andante not… That’s exactly how you would expect an audience to react if it followed only the musical cues and not those that mid-20th century concert etiquette stiffly stipulates… refreshing in its own right.