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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartet in D major Op.64 No.5 Hob III:63 The Lark (1783) [18:56]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
String Quartet in D minor K421 [417b] (1783) [20:21]
Clarinet Quintet in A major K581 (1789) [28:07]
Ivan Mozgovenko (clarinet)
Borodin Quartet
rec. Moscow 1958 (Haydn); 1964 (Mozart Quartet); Moscow 1969 (Mozart Clarinet Quintet)
MELODIYA MEL CD 10 01021 [67:54]


Admirers of the Borodin vintage 1958 and 1964-69 can luxuriate in these fine sounding and very mellow performances. Everything is beautifully organised and in particular the tonal qualities of the quartet are wonderfully rich and ripe. The Dubinsky-Alexandrov-Shebalin-Berlinsky foursome had very fixed ideas as to this repertoire and that clearly extended to the question of repeats.  In the Mozart Quartet for instance we find repeats well treated in the inner but limited in the outer movements. This however can be persuasively seen as an approach deriving from time and place and I doubt that it will materially impede appreciation of the playing per se.

That performance of K421 stands at the mid-point in time of these three recordings and was taped in 1964. For all the ardent romanticism of the reading there will be many who would consider this – indeed would have considered it back in the mid 1960s – as an imposition of tonal breadth on genuine interpretative freedoms. True there are most attractive things in the trio of the Minuet but the grand seigniorial approach can sap the music making; rhythmic devitalisation is often the result.

Their performance of the Clarinet Quintet with a distinguished colleague, Ivan Mozgovenko, shows similar tendencies - ones, I have to say, with which the clarinettist sounds entirely comfortable. Mellifluous and sonorous – you can hardly miss the very pronounced “bass line” cello of Berlinsky – this is a reading that exalts rarefied beauty but at the expense of inner dynamism. Earlier players such as Kell and his various quartet colleagues often played as slowly but invariably with greater incision and stronger complements of accents and dynamic variation. The result, to my ears at any rate, is that the Mozgovenko-Borodin team sounds lateral and in truth, inert.

The Haydn is the earliest of the recordings. The 1958 group had been together since the early 50s and were already fully armed. But this is a Haydn that sounds, even for the late 1950s, rather too smoothed out and lacking appropriate grit. The intense warmth of the collective vibrato tends to dampen the quixotic and to impede momentum – in this of all quartets.

This is part of a series of Melodiya reissues after a period in which companies such as Aulos had access to the master tapes and issued them using DSD remastering. You should note that K421 was coupled with the Brahms Clarinet Quintet (Mozgovenko again) and issued on Chandos H10151. 

Jonathan Woolf 




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