Escher String Quartet perform works by Borodin, Dvořák and Tchaikovsky

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COMPOSERS: Borodin • Dvořák • Tchaikovsky
LABELS: BIS (hybridCD/SACD)
ALBUM TITLE: Borodin • Dvořák • Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Dvoˇrák: String Quartet No. 12 in F (American); Tchaikovsky: String Quartet No. 1; Borodin: String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Escher String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: BIS 2280

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This is something of a standard ‘top hits’ compilation of soulful Slavic quartets.

Indeed, it exactly duplicates the programme of an Emerson Quartet CD (on DG) issued over 20 years ago, which combines that group’s 1990 Tchaikovsky/ Borodin album – itself a standard coupling of those two well-loved D major Russian quartets – with their Dvořák American Quartet recorded that same year.

The Eschers’ new album, beautifully recorded in SACD, contains much fine playing by that young group. They are particularly well-attuned to the Tchaikovsky, not only delivering a gently melancholic account of its melodious second movement, but also presenting the symphonic-style first and last movements in a dramatic and appropriately vigorous manner.

Their accounts of the Dvořák and Borodin works appear to focus on their more obviously tuneful qualities. Dynamic contrasts are often blunted: in the Dvořák third movement scherzo, for instance, the forzando accents intended to contrast with the following pianissimo passage are toned down respectively to borderline forte and mezzo piano. The Emersons’ livelier account creates a greater sense of drama, with sharper accents and appropriate dynamic contrasts to jolt the listener out of any complacent sense of familiarity, making one all the more alert to that movement’s unexpected switches of direction. Too often, the Eschers smooth over such details, making it easy to overlook the inventive colours and craft of these original works.

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Daniel Jaffé