Sharing Their Passion for Classical Music

Saturday, February 14, 2015
The Cordova Quartet

The Cordova Quartet

THE CORDOVA QUARTET began less than two years ago as a group of music students at Rice University. They are now the Young Professional Quartet in Residence at the University of Texas at Austin where they seem destined for a bright future.

Andy Liang (vioin), Niccoló Muti (vioin), Blake Turner (viola), and Matt Kufchak (cello) came to Charleston recently as guests of Ashley Hall’s Carolina Strings Academy where we heard them play works by Dmitri Shostakovich, J. Tavener (the twentieth-century British choral composer who put to music the poems of Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova), and Sergei Rachmaninov.

Needless to say, these three artists lived at a time when their country was under the stern sway of a Soviet government that sought to bridle if not repress artistic expression. The clash between the individual and the state was certainly evident in Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 10 in A-flat Major, Opus 118, whose twentieth-century dissonance perfectly mirrored the turbulence—the angst—that Shostakovich felt as a musician longing to express his true feelings while under pressure from Stalin. Quartet No. 10, so maturely rendered by the young Cordova players, is ripe with tones of resistance, surrender, agitation, and defiance—an amalgamation that simultaneously evokes the Soviet landscape and captures the conflicted moods of Shostakovich.

Anna Akhmatova, herself strictly censored by the Stalin regime, gave birth to a terse, austere style of poetry that was much admired by British composer, Sir John Tavener (1944-2013). Tavener, whose early works are said to have been influenced by Igor Stravinsky, was an iconoclastic writer of choral works who eventually turned from orthodox religion to eastern spirituality. His rendering of Ahkmatova’s poems (originally scored for cello and soprano and later transcribed for string quartet) have an intense lyricism and serenity that complement Ahkmatova’s enduring introspection—both of which were tenderly wrought by Ukrainian-born soprano, Katya Gruzglina, a fellow Rice University graduate.


Soprano Katya Gruzglina

Unlike Shostakovich and Ahkmatova, Sergei Rachmaninov left Russia soon after the Revolution of 1917. Although he was not formally suppressed by the Soviet government, he felt the tension in his native country and longed for the czarist Russia of old—a longing that you hear in his sweeping orchestral themes as well as his romantic, folk-based melodies. Ms. Gruzglina’s strong and silky voice seemed a perfect fit for Rachmaninov’s charming yet doleful yearnings.

It was with some relief that the program ended with Beethoven’s equally intense but more ebullient String Quartet No. 9 in C major, Op. 59, Razumovsky, No. 3—“which has acquired the nickname Eroica because of its glorious, triumphant finale” (

Beethoven’s Opus 59 comprises three quartets written under commission to Prince Andrey Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador to Vienna, who asked Beethoven to include a Russian theme in each quartet.

The No. 9 is an exuberant work (my favorite part was the furious fugue in the last movement) whose free reign made me wonder how demonstrative Shostakovich might have been had he been free of the Soviet yoke that constrained him. As violinist Niccoló Muti explained, this quartet is a clear example of how Beethoven melded strict notation and regimented organization with a ferociousness, daring, and spontaneity that served as a bridge between the classical and romantic periods.

It also served as a chance for four immensely talented string players to reveal their virtuosity. Beethoven’s conversationally complex chamber music is among the most demanding, and he wrote this work in the midst of his dynamic “middle period.” The very facile Cordova Quartet played it seamlessly.

But it is more than their talent which makes them so fun to listen to. Their enthusiasm for playing and teaching is infectious—which makes them a perfect fit at Ashley Hall where the Carolina Strings Academy continues to sow the seeds of classical musicianship.


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