Tchaikovsky: String Quartets No. 1; String Quartet No. 3

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: String Quartets No. 1; String Quartet No. 3
PERFORMER: St Lawrence String Quartet
These are young musicians, helpfully photogenic in the Kronos tradition, and yet they put years on the lithe first movement and Andante cantabile of Tchaikovsky’s First Quartet. Sicklied over with a pale cast of thought, the opening Moderato e semplice limps rather than pulses in its syncopated 9/8 metre, while the famous folksong married to 18th-century manners is anything but natural. Aiming for subtlety and sophistication, the St Lawrence team misses the freedom and grace of line so effortlessly projected by the Borodin Quartet in its many recordings. The more ambitious scope of the Third Quartet suits the probing better; the funereal procession of the big-boned slow movement and the dead-zone chanting it brings in its wake – a blueprint for the late quartet style of Shostakovich – are atmospherically handled. But even here the generous melody at the heart of the movement never quite takes wing, and the dance tunes of the finale need to be more wholeheartedly embraced. Tchaikovsky places heavy responsibility on the shoulders of the first violinist, who seems reluctant to step into the limelight, while an


over-resonant recording is surely to blame for the cellist’s boomy tones. Surely these players have a more dynamic approach to the contemporary music that looms so large in their repertoire. David Nice