The Borodin play with an easy authority and a perfect style, and it is evident that these musicians are thoroughly immersed in the authentic Russian tradition.
Fourteen years ago JW reviewed recordings of the Tchaikovsky quartets made by the 'old' Borodin Quartet (EM! SLS889, 9/74—nla). That set also included the early Quartet Movement in B flat, which completes Tchaikovsky's works of any significance for string quartet. But the present issue already has two very well filled CDs—or cassettes and LPs if you prefer—and represents a good bargain in terms of playing time. The 'new' Borodin Quartet made their analogue recordings in 1978-80 and the quality is very good, with a fairly generous studio-type acoustic, plenty ofRead more presence and a good deal of warmth.
Only the First Quartet, the one with the famous Andante cantabile slow movement, seems to have achieved any real popularity. Written in 1871, when Tchaikovsky was still in his early years as a serious composer, it has an attractively spring-like quality of romance, with lots of good tunes and not too much depth of feeling. The Second Quartet, written three years later, plumbs greater depths in its first movement and in the Andante, both of which have a predominating mood of introspection, even melancholy. But a busy Scherzo, with intriguingly irregular rhythms, and an energetic finale provide good contrast. The Third Quartet was written in memory of Tchaik ovsky's friend Ferdinand Laub, who had led the Quartet of the Russian Musical Society which gave the premiere of the First Quartet. Here each movement is serious in character, but not too sombre or depressing. It's a great pity that the Second and Third Quartets are not played more frequently, since in common with the betterknown Souvenir de Florence, where Tchaikovsky recaptures the First Quartet's serenity, now expressed with a mature self-assurance and mellowness, they are immediately attractive and maintain a high quality of invention. The quartet medium seemed to put a curb on the emotional excesses which are present in some of Tchaikovsky's larger-scale works: the expression of feeling has a clean, direct quality, and there are no neuroses.
In all three quartets the Borodin play with an easy authority and what seems to be perfect style. There are no obvious interpretative quirks; there's nothing showy to get between the music and the listener, and it is evident that these musicians are thoroughly immersed in the authentic Russian tradition of playing Tchaikovsky's music. Technically and tonally they are first rate, and they combine well with the two excellent extra players in Souvenir de Florence. I very much enjoyed all these performances.