St. Petersburg Performs Intimate Recital

St. Peterburg String Quartet L-R: Ned Kellenberger, violin, Sascha Groschang, cello, Alla Aranovskaya, violin, and Boris Vayner, viola. (Photo: St. Petersburg Quartet)

One of Kansas City’s newest string quartets is also one of its oldest. 

The St. Petersburg String Quartet was founded in 1985. Originally called the Leningrad String Quartet, they changed their name in 1991, when the city reclaimed the historic name of St. Petersburg. 

Though the Grammy Award-nominated quartet has performed world-wide, the group moved its homebase from Russia to the United States and, in recent years, was re-established in Kansas, where they are growing a loyal local audience. 

The group is led by founding member Alla Aranovskaya, on violin, with Boris Vayner on viola (member since 2005), Ned Kellenberger, violin, and Sascha Groschang, cello (who both joined in 2022). 

St. Petersburg String Quartet performed at Pilgrim Chapel on Thursday evening for an intimate audience in the charming historic space. From time to time, the group presents local recitals of massive repertoire, free or donation-based, as they prepare for tours and out of town performances. The group will celebrate its 40th anniversary next season with performances in New York. 

The quartet often performs Russian repertoire and this evening’s 90 minute program included works by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Dmitri Shostakovich. These two composers are dear to the hearts of the ensemble, having performed and recorded their complete quartets. 

Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet no. 2 in F Major, op. 22 was a favorite of the composer’s and this rendition certainly did him proud. It began with sweet melancholy, the violin with a pining sort of melody. The quartet addressed the piece with sensitivity. 

The second movement was more angsty and insistent, with a repetitive rhythmic idea shared amongst the group. An ascent seemed to happen out of nowhere, before an almost playfully, jolly section, the rhythm reframed. Tchaikovsky saved his major drama for the third movement, with quick mood changes, Aranovskya passionate and Vayner bringing forth that lovely viola timbre. There was a particularly captivating moment when Groschang held forth with a steady line, the other three voices in growing tension. 

Following a delicate pizzicato and slight pause, the final moment came at a galloping rush, full of intensity and mounting excitement, the group fully in sync. 

Shostakovich’s String Quartet no. 9 in E flat Major, op. 117 is a long haul, a five movement work written attacca. It’s a relatively modern piece, written “only” 60 years ago, quite young for a work of classical music and blends a variety of sensibilities into the work. 

The atmospheric, searching opening set the tone for a piece filled with unexpected and delightfully arresting moments and dramatic shifts in attitude and energy, from somber to frenzied, aggressive to thrilling. 

Each individual voice was given opportunities to sing, whether Aranovskaya in the sweet high register and later with a deep, tormented melody; glissandi at the ends of phrases; Kellenberger in pizzicato double stops; Vayner with mysterious flurries of sound; and Groschang laying in with such ferocity that the stone walls nearly echoed. 

If Tchaikovsky’s creation flowed easily, in this piece you can hear the influence of struggle, whether with inner demons or just wrestling with creative forces. The St. Petersburg String Quartet gave it a convincing performance, laying bare that struggle and assured in their triumph.

Reviewed Thursday, May 23, 2024, at Pilgrim Chapel in Kansas City, Missouri. For more information visit www.stpetersburgquartet.com.  

Libby Hanssen

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. She maintains the culture bog "Proust Eats a Sandwich."

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