Beethoven: String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59/2 (Razumovsky); String Quartet in E flat, Op. 74 (Harp)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59/2 (Razumovsky); String Quartet in E flat, Op. 74 (Harp)
PERFORMER: Borodin Quartet
On the whole this second instalment in the Borodin Quartet’s Beethoven cycle strikes me as more of a success than the first (reviewed in March). Certainly, the players’ affection for this repertoire, and the high seriousness with which they approach it, are never in doubt. In the Harp Quartet, Op. 74, in particular, they penetrate right to the heart of the music, and only their rather easygoing account of the scherzo prevents an unreserved recommendation. Even more on the sedate side is the Borodin Quartet’s view of the scherzo from Op. 59/2. It’s in the trio section of this piece that Beethoven makes use of a Russian folk tune in deference to his patron Count Razumovsky; and in David Nice’s informative CD booklet the Borodin’s cellist, Valentin Berlinsky, is quoted as saying that it shouldn’t be played lightly. True, the original tune is solemn – Mussorgsky used it more appropriately as a hymn in Boris Godunov – but more to the point than any attempt to recreate its Russian flavour is to respect Beethoven’s disrespect for it. The long opening movement is again played very deliberately (and with puzzling ritardandos in the recapitulation of the main theme), seriously robbing the music of momentum, and the dramatic silences in this piece throw into relief the excessive dryness of the recording. In short, these are worthy performances, but there’s no shortage of preferable alternatives. The recent version from the Takács Quartet, for example, is more alert, no less deeply felt, and far better recorded. Misha Donat