Borodin & Taneyev Chamber Works

Author: 
rgolding

Borodin & Taneyev Chamber Works

  • String Quartet No. 2
  • String Quintet No. 1
  • String Quartet No. 1
  • String Quartet No. 2

The Borodin Quartet's Melodiya recording of Borodin's own two quartets was the winner of a Gramophone Award in 1983, earning more votes than any operatic or choral issue. Lionel Salter, in his original review of the LP, declared that he did not expect to hear the two works ''more persuasively played'', and in September 1986, SJ described the recording as ''a strong contender for CD transfer''. I can only add my praise for these magnificent performances to that of my colleagues, the Russian ensemble (with a different first and second violin from the team that recorded Borodin's Second Quartet for Decca over 20 years ago now deleted—but with the same viola and cello) have the music in their blood and match the need for flexibility of phrasing and rhythm with a unanimity of articulation and intonation that is quite staggering.
Not the least valuable feature of the EMI issue, to my mind, is the fact that it offers both of Borodin's quartets: the less familiar No. 1 in A (composed between 1873 and 1879) as well as the popular No. 2 in D of 1881, with the celebrated Notturno as its third movement; a feature not shared by any of the other recordings under consideration. One of these, the Olympia issue, offers the same performance of the D major Quartet coupled with an interesting rarity in the shape of the First String Quintet by Sergey Tanevev (1856–1915), composed in 1901 and dedicated to Rimsky-Korsakov (Taneyev wrote another quintet, with two violas as opposed to the two cellos used in No. 1, three years later in memory of the music publisher Belyayev). No. I is a big, imposing work, with a lively, inventive (and very long!) first movement, a fiery scherzo, and a huge 20-minute finale in the form of a theme with variations, the last two of which are another Notturno and a fugue. The Leningrad Taneyev Quartet (whose personnel are unnamed) and Morozov play it superbly, and the recorded sound throughout the disc is very good, although the transfer to CD does not have quite the warmth and the stereo spread of the EMI.
So far as sound is concerned, the Calliope recording of the Talich Quartet playing Borodin's Second Quartet and the First of Tchaikovsky's three (composed in 1871) is outstandingly vivid with the four instruments clearly positioned, though not to the extent of destroying the blend and cohesion of the ensemble; in fact the sound is so clear that it picks up the cellist's intakes of breath in between the phrases of his big solo at the beginning of the Notturno in the Borodin. This movement is ravishingly played by the Talich Quartet, as is the well known Andante cantabile (the second movement) in the Tchaikovsky. In the Bor din, the Czech ensemble do not perhaps quite match the intensity and concentration of the Russians, or the uniquely compelling quality of their unisons and octaves, but it is, nevertheless, marvellous playing.
Finally, there is the recording of Borodin's Second Quartet (coupled with Prokofiev's Second, composed in 1941 and inspired by the folk-music of Kabarda in the northern Caucasus, where Prokofiev and a number of other Soviets were evacuated from Moscow) by another Czech ensemble, the Prague Quartet (Denon). As SJ remarked in his original review of the CD, the ''passionate and gritty'' playing of the Prague Quartet suits the Prokofiev very well, but I am inclined to agree with him that in the Borodin their playing tends to be over-emphatic and to lack subtlety.'

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