Borodin Quartet

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich:,Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Medici Arts
WORKS: Tchaikovsky: String Quartets Nos 1 & 2; Shostakovich: String Quartets Nos 3 & 8
PERFORMER: Borodin Quartet (Mikhail Kopelman, Andrei Abramenkov, Dmitri Shebalin, Valentin Berlinsky)
CATALOGUE NO: 2072298 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 4:3 picture format)

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While we may have become accustomed to younger quartet players smiling, establishing eye contact with each other and moving together, these films of the Borodin Quartet in 1987 make the equally valid point that maximum effect can be achieved with minimal physical effort.

A timely document following the death of the Quartet’s longest-serving member, cellist Valentin Berlinsky, at the beginning of this year, it also captures one of the group’s several golden ages, in this case with Mikhail Kopelman at the helm.

Kopelman was a peerless first violinist: pure of intonation, deeply expressive without ever forcing the tone, tough but never abrasive at nodal points in the Shostakovich quartets, and sweetness personified in Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile. The other players follow his lead impressively, all of them charting with space and patience the pure but fragile melodies which dominate the last two movements of Shostakovich’s Third Quartet, ineffably sealed by the most luminous of codas.

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The humorous grace of Tchaikovsky’s finales is understated and the Shostakovich scherzos incisive rather than wild, but there’s not a mood that escapes the Borodins’ vigilant focus. The neo-classical columns of the Henry Wood Hall, perfect for Tchaikovsky’s more elegant moments, give way to a montage backdrop and then – more successfully – to darkness in Shostakovich; camerawork is always with the right player at the right time. David Nice