Tchaikovsky: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: New Haydn Quartet, Budapest
CATALOGUE NO: 8.550847
Tchaikovsky’s two most familiar facets, the objective Classicist and the subjective Romantic, find their ideal crystallisation in his first two string quartets. In the two slow movements by which any performance stands or falls, the New Haydn Quartet achieves unexpected results. Its way with the famous folksong of No. 1’s Andante cantabile, the movement which reduced Tolstoy to tears, is restrained to the point of anonymity; a chilly perfection finds little between the lines. But the determined ecstasy which pushes its way through the bitter tears of the Second Quartet’s slow movement meets with full-throttle orchestral effect that carries us through to the agonised return of the main theme – and these players certainly know how to maintain their intonation under pressure.

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Elsewhere it’s much as you might imagine from this cultured Hungarian quartet. The short motifs and irreproachable part-writing in the First Quartet’s other movements carry more than the usual echoes of Mozart and Haydn, but a certain dourness misses the mark for the uncanny gaiety and grace of Tchaikovsky’s consolations in the Second. The dynamics can be rather middle-of-the-road, too. Certainly there aren’t the licences or the rubato writ large of the Borodin Quartet; but then the Russians are in an aristocratic class of their own. Their interpretations are part of a full-price, two-CD set on Teldec; Tchaikovsky’s other works for strings are to follow from Naxos, and if you only want good, strong performances of these two, then this is certainly a good bargain. But to neglect the glories of the Borodin would surely be a false economy. David Nice