Tchaikovsky: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet in B flat; Souvenir de Florence

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet in B flat; Souvenir de Florence
PERFORMER: Borodin Quartet with Yuri Yurov (viola), Mikhaïl Milman (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-90422-2 DDD
Whilst everyone knows and loves the ubiquitous Andante cantabile from Tchaikovsky’s First Quartet, the rest of his string chamber music remains surprisingly neglected. The problem cannot be attributed to any lack of musical inspiration on the part of the composer, although the fearsome technical demands of works like the masterly Third String Quartet, cast in the highly unusual key of E flat minor, may well be an inhibiting factor. A more plausible explanation lies with a tendency amongst non-Russian performers to interpret the music in an overtly classical manner, thereby smoothing out the dramatic originality of Tchaikovsky’s conceptions.

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It goes without saying that no such criticisms can be levelled against the Borodin Quartet, whose definitive renditions of these works are gloriously captured in this excellent Teldec release. Having steeped themselves in this repertoire for many years, the Borodin Quartet have an instinctive understanding of Tchaikovsky’s emotional world and produce playing of profound intensity in the heart-rending slow movements of the Second and Third Quartets.

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In comparison, the Franz Schubert Quartet appear worthy rather than inspired. Despite enjoying the benefits of superior engineering, they draw fewer contrasts of timbre and articulation than their Russian counterparts and adopt unduly cautious tempi for the Scherzo and finale of the Third Quartet. Erik Levi