WORKS: String Quartet No. 2 in D; Cello Sonata in B minor; Piano Quintet in C minor
PERFORMER: Pražák Quartet; Jaromír Klepác (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: PRD 250 139
Borodin’s Second Quartet is so easy to like that it’s tempting to take it for granted. You can just lie back and hum along to the glorious tunes; but it’s also a strongly original piece, one which reinvents the Classical quartet texture ingeniously in Romantic terms – something which very few other late 19th-century composers were able to do.
The Borodin Quartet’s 1962 Decca recording has been a favourite top recommendation during its intermittent periods in the catalogue. It certainly has a lot going for it: charm, warmly rounded tone, a controlled ardour in the love-song slow movement. But the Pražák performance is more extrovert. At first I wondered if they weren’t trying a bit too hard – applying the lipstick too generously, perhaps – but the affection, the openness eventually won me round. And in the two rare earlier chamber works – the Cello Sonata and the Piano Quintet – the Pražák and pianist Jaromír Klepác are surprisingly persuasive.
These no longer sound like ‘interesting’ apprentice works: flawed they may be, but there’s enough passion and imagination to make them worth hearing more than once or twice. The recordings are well attuned to the playing style: intimate, warm-toned and far from dry.