Borodin: String Quartet No. 1; String Quintet

COMPOSERS: Borodin
LABELS: Praga / Meloydia
ALBUM TITLE: Borodin
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quintet
PERFORMER: Kocian Quarte; Michael Kanka (cello)Borodin Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: PRD/DSD / MEL CD 100 0942 (reissue)
articulate musicians, with a rounded

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overall sound and precise ensemble.

Sample a few bars at random from

either of their performances and

you might find the playing pleasant

enough – though the recording does

bring out a gritty, resiny quality in

the string tone.

What they lack is a sense of

dynamic contrast. Not only is there

very little audible difference between

their f and mf, but in passages like the

opening section of the First Quartet’s

scherzo there isn’t much more

between f and p. Over long stretches

it all sounds pretty drab. And I’m not

convinced by the way they handle the

tempo changes in the first movement

either. There really is no competition

between this and the Borodin’s

refined 1980 recording of the First

Quartet (coupled with its successor).

The original Borodin Quartet was

Soviet Russia’s star chamber ensemble

in the 1950s and ’60s, and these early

Melodiya recordings show them at

the height of their powers. Every

phrase is full of life, and the expressive

range is wide, from passion to tender

affection, from fiery exuberance to

gentle playfulness. The Borodin’s

‘default’ tone is ripe and intense, but the players show considerable variety

of colour, with subtle nuance as

well as full open-heartedness. They

also have a superbly vital sense of

the overall shape of both quartets:

ear-catching details – of which there

are plenty –are never allowed to

distract from the broader sense of

how each movement ebbs and flows.

Perhaps some of their pianissimos

could be a little softer, but contrast is

always strong. Considering the age

and provenance of the recordings,

the sound is remarkably good.

If you don’t need modern digital

stereo, this would easily make a top

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recommendation. Stephen Johnson