DVOŘÁK; TCHAIKOVSKY; BORODIN String Quartets
I didn’t think they still made discs like this – three of the best-loved Romantic string quartets, grouped together for no other reason, presumably, than that they’re all popular. And, of course, that they’re all masterpieces. Someone will always be discovering these works for the first time and there’s no musical reason why they should ever feel any less fresh.
No worries on that score from the Escher Quartet. BIS has provided a recorded sound with just enough bloom to create an atmosphere, but sufficiently transparent that the inner parts are always lucid. And the Eschers have run with it – ‘run’ being the operative word, because they approach this music as if it’s newly minted. Their readings are clear, intelligent and bracingly energetic.
Indeed, it’s tempting to talk about varnish being stripped away, and there’s something undeniably satisfying about the rhythmic kick that viola player Pierre Lapointe gives to the opening melody of the American Quartet, or the crunch of horsehair on wood in Tchaikovsky’s Scherzo. The finales of both the Dvořák and the Borodin are electrifying. But the way the Eschers probe the different layers of melancholy in the first movement of the Dvořák and the eloquent, plain-spoken way they lay out the famous melody of Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile are typical of performances that take nothing for granted.
Reservations? Well, with this degree of objectivity, you do lose some of the music’s sensual warmth: the shimmering passage in Borodin’s ‘Notturno’ that Andrew Porter once compared to Chopin comes across like an (admittedly exquisite) clockwork mechanism. But this is a disc to revive jaded palates, and a highly rewarding example of the state of the art in 21st-century quartet-playing.