The Goldner String Quartet and pianist Piers Lane tackle chamber works by Borodin

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COMPOSERS: Alexander Borodin
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Borodin
WORKS: Piano Quintet; String Quartet No. 2; Goldstein: Cello Sonata
PERFORMER: Goldner String Quartet; Piers Lane (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 68166

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There wasn’t much of a Russian chamber music tradition in Borodin’s time, so he had to go where instinct took him – at least at first. He finds persuasive advocates in the Goldner Quartet, still in its original line-up after 22 years, and pianist Piers Lane.

Written in 1862, the Piano Quintet in C minor is lopsided, opening with a brief movement breathing the twin atmospheres of Russian folksong and orthodox chant, skitting through a scherzo and culminating in a gloriously over-egged finale longer than the first two movements put together. Borodin can’t let go of his triumphant last theme, but the Goldners’ obvious enjoyment of it doesn’t affect their crispness or impeccable tuning.

The cello was Borodin’s instrument. His 1860 Sonata survived incomplete and was reconstructed by Mikhail Goldstein – something of a joker, known for his ‘discovery’ of an entirely fictional symphony by an equally fictional composer. His version of the Cello Sonata, however, seems entirely legit. Goldner cellist Julian Smiles is in eloquent form; in the finale, Lane’s light touch keeps charm to the fore.

This is a glowing performance of the Quartet No. 2, written two decades later and audibly more mature. Could the Scherzo sound a touch more playful, the finale more exuberant? Perhaps – but the quartet’s playing is consistently fine.

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Erica Jeal