Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: No. 10; No. 12,
String Quartet No. 2. String Quartet No. 3: excerpt
ICA 5044 (DVD: 81:26) Live: Paris 1/16/2010
With the departure in 2007 of cellist Valentin Berlinsky, who took over for Mstislav Rostropovich shortly after the group’s founding in 1945, none of the Borodin Quartet’s near-original members remain, though the second violinist, Andrei
Abramenkov has been in the group since 1974. Despite the well-integrated sound of the quartet’s current lineup, one can’t help but be drawn to the brilliant and deeply musical playing of its first violinist, Ruben Aharonian. The newest member, Vladimir Balshin, anchors the quartet with the particularly solid sound of his cello playing.
This impressive filmed concert offers deeply considered, tonally rich interpretations of mainstream works. The ungimmicky program combines the best of Schubert’s early quartets, No. 10 in E?, D 87, with the masterly “Quartettsatz” and the moody, subtle Brahms op. 51/2. A substantial encore, the third movement, the pensive Agitato from Brahms’s B?-quartet, op. 67, creates a symmetrical balance with the single-movement Schubert work.
In the E?-quartet, with its compact forms, Schubert—self-consciously, I have always felt—works to infuse Haydn’s quartet-writing model with obvious Viennese charm. He succeeds, and the Borodin Quartet captures more of the work’s humor and lightness than one might expect from this group based on the heavier, more literal playing of its earlier members, without sacrificing their trademark full-blooded sound. By contrast, the “Quartettsatz”—mature, symphonically conceived Schubert—is played, appropriately, with much more intensity and dramatic sweep. Aharonian’s upward flights on the E string are totally secure and wonderfully expressive without being self-indulgent. Sometimes his 16th notes sound smoothed out into triplets for expressive purpose.
In the Borodin’s performance of the Brahms op 51/2, a work famous for its problematic writing, there’s not one moment of imperfect intonation, shaky ensemble, or questionable balance. The first movement’s rapturous second subject sounds more driven than usual and doesn’t provide its usual sense of relief, and the playing of the finale is notable for its vehemence. The encore, which Brahms once called “the most amorous, affectionate thing that I have composed,” showcases the lovely tone of violist Igor Naidin.
In these carefully gauged yet exciting readings, the Borodins are notably less physically demonstrative than many other quartets. They don’t even smile when they bow, which I find somehow refreshing, but Aharonian’s subtly expressive facial expressions hint at his ongoing emotional responses, and there’s the music itself: vital and full of feeling at every moment. Tully Potter, who has attended concerts by the Borodin Quartet for more than 45 years, puts it well in the DVD booklet: “To spend an hour in the company of a great string quartet ensemble, as its members explore good music, is among the most civilized enjoyments known to mankind.”
FANFARE: Paul Orgel
Works on This Recording
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