Tchaikovsky: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; Quartet Movement in B flat

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: CRD
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; Quartet Movement in B flat
PERFORMER: Endellion String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 3501
Much careful thought has gone into these performances, though whether it draws the greatest contrasts between the classical poise of the First Quartet and the more autobiographical keenings of the Second is another matter. The Endellion way with the syncopated 9/8 start of No. 1 seems a touch arthritic – try the Borodin in any of its incarnations for a lesson in subtle movement here – though it does pave the way for an impressively articulated development. The Borodin’s controversial precedent of a vibrato-free folksong in the famous Andante cantabile is imitated here only when violins and viola take up the theme in unison, an effective holy twist to a melody whose original sentiments, the booklet note reminds us, are hardly lofty (‘Upon the divan Vanya sat, and filled a glass with rum…’).

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The no-vibrato rule is applied rather more dramatically to the dying fall of the F major Quartet’s unequivocally tragic slow movement, characteristic of the players’ thoughtful approach to movement endings. Whether its nihilism allows for the neutral cheerfulness of the finale is another matter. The Endellion, and especially its hard-working first violinist Andrew Watkinson, has made doggedly clear that the legs supporting the first movement’s Russian dance are unsteady, and that the scherzo’s rhythms and intervals insist too much for comfort; so the frenzied jollity of the closing bars is consistent with the manic-depressive interpretation. It’s refreshing to find the quartet then playing cool and fluid with the early Quartet Movement in B flat, a welcome descent at the end of the disc from the plateau of high emotions. David Nice