Beethoven: String Quartets, op.18

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: String Quartets, op.18
PERFORMER: Borodin Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10381(3)
In the Op. 18 Quartets, Beethoven

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appears to be at a stylistic crossroads,

bowing with reverence to the

traditions of Haydn and Mozart on

the one hand while at the same time

forging ahead with a more exploratory

idiom that anticipates his middle

period. To attain an ideal balance

between these aspects is problematic,

and I am not at all convinced that

the Borodin Quartet have managed

this in their latest recording.

The overriding problem seems

to be a lack of charm and joie de

vivre in the more graceful sections

of the music, the dour approach of

the Borodins tending to make the

music seem surprisingly limited in its

emotional range. Even the sturm und

drang of the first movement of the

C minor Quartet seems hard-driven

rather than passionate and urgent,

and the ensuing slow movement

lacks the humour and elegance

suggested by Beethoven’s marking of

Andante scherzoso. Elsewhere, there

are moments of rhythmic instability,

particularly in the Finales of the F major and G major, and the

occasional lack of clarity in

articulation that is somewhat

uncharacteristic of a quartet with

the pedigree of the Borodins.

Indeed, one may well ask why

Chandos bothered to release this

set, given that they issued an historic

recording of the Borodins playing

the same works only a couple of years

ago. Direct comparison between the

two versions reveals that despite the

immeasurably superior engineering

of the present release, the Borodin’s

earlier performances are simply

irresistible and convey much of the

energy and enthusiasm that is sadly

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missing here. Erik Levi.