ALBUM TITLE: Borodin Quartet Golden Jubilee
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet in B flat; Souvenir de Florence; String Quartets No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 3; Piano Quintet; Seven Last Words; String Quintet
PERFORMER: Borodin Quartet with Misha Milman (cello), Eliso Virsaladze (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-97462-2 DDD
The fiftieth anniversary of the Borodin Quartet is certainly an occasion to celebrate, but how odd and inappropriate that this set — comprising recordings from only the
past couple of years – should not include a note by Borodin himself. The generous representation of Tchaikovsky, on die other hand, is appropriate and more. No ensemble in die world has demonstrated a greater affinity with this greatest of Russian composers.
Among the many noteworthy virtues of the present set is an absolute refusal to sentimentalise. Few composers have worn their hearts more shamelessly on dieir sleeve than Tchaikovsky, nor has any been more misrepresented as a result. The emotional power and charm of his music gains enormously from a restrained yet uninhibited approach, and that’s just what it gets here. Indeed, die Borodin’s beautifully cosmopolitan but intense interpretations suggest an interesting blend of their remaining composers here: Brahms, Haydn and Schubert, in that order (notwithstanding Tchaikovsky’s disparagement of Brahms as ‘diat gifted bastard, that self-inflated mediocrity’).
No composer of chamber music ever thought bigger than Brahms, whose F minor Quintet is of truly symphonic proportions, running to nearly forty minutes in performance. One of die main challenges for the players is to convey the large-scale architecture of die music without sacrificing small-scale expressive details in the process: die finer inflections of tone, melody, mood, rhythmic suppleness and die intimate, melodic intertwinings which give so much of Brahms’s music its unique combination of intellect, emotion and sensuality. And the problems must be solved on a corporate as well as an individual basis. In the Quintet, for instance (as in die diree quartets), die string players are in splendid form – full of bold expressive gestures, subtle colourings and dynamic rhythms – but the pianist too seldom follows suit. The congested, over-symmetrical rhythmic profile, with its excess of beats and its tonal density, is precisely the sort of playing which gives Brahms a bad name. Fortunately, it’s not applied consistently. The overall performance has many effective and involving features, but its flaws are too important to ignore.
In the great C major Quintet of Schubert, one of the finest masterpieces ever achieved in any medium, the virtues of the Borodin’s Tchaikovsky are again in force, and
with luminous results. The balance between Classical proportion and Romantic fervour, like the tonal blend of intensity and warmth, is struck with unfailing conviction, and
if, ultimately, it lacks die full tragic stature of the great Prades Festival recording by Casals and colleagues, it can nevertheless be very warmly recommended indeed. So, though not perhaps quite so confidently, can the Haydn, whose beauties are many and whose shortcomings (purely musicological) are both few and negligible. Jeremy Siepmann