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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
String Quartets Volume 1

No 1 in D Major Op 11
No 2 in F major Op 22

New Haydn Quartet, Budapest
Recorded Unitarian Church Budapest from 2 to 5 October 1995
NAXOS 8.550847 (66.35)


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The Tchaikovsky quartets are hard to bring off successfully. In a market not exactly short of recordings it’s remarkable how few are genuinely distinctive and have lasted the test of time. The Borodin Quartet, on Teldec 2292-45965-2 or Melodiya 74321 18290-2, have recorded all three quartets; the Hollywood Quartet’s 1952 traversal of No 1 is back in the catalogue on Testament; and quartet rivals to the east of Budapest, location of the present disc, include the Shostakovich, the St Petersburg and the Moscow.

Now the New Haydn Quartet, Budapest – a somewhat unwieldy name – opens their account with the first two quartets. Presumably volume two will include the third quartet, the Quartet Movement in B flat and maybe the Five Early pieces for quartet (though many quartets opt to play the Souvenir de Florence for sextet). The Op 11 quartet’s nationalism is tempered by its traditional and orthodox affiliations; its first movement, Moderato e semplice, can often seem hamstrung by an excessively slow tempo. The New Haydn Quartet, Budapest, steer a course between the lugubrious and the brusque and are sufficiently forward moving to avoid the heaviness which afflicts several other recordings. The Andante cantabile is suffused with the requisite warmth; the Scherzo heavy footed in its stomping episodes. If the outer movements of the quartet never quite resolve then it is not entirely the fault of the Hungarians – Tchaikovsky’s invention is not uniform throughout the work.

The Second Quartet, Op 22, is by some way the least recorded of the three. Less popular than the first, less obviously powerful than the third it is nevertheless formally and expressively a compelling piece. Well though they do play the New Haydn Quartet is no match for the Borodin Quartet, whose fusion of exemplary technical address, expressive nuance, control of dynamics and organization of tempo relationships is surely unmatched by any other quartet in this repertoire. The New Haydn Quartet addresses the piece’s Mozartian allusions with commitment, however, and although they are not as tonally alluring as they might be theirs is by no means a negligible account.

The First Violin, Janos Horvath, tends to dominate the aural spectrum; the recorded sound is pleasant though, as recorded in the Unitarian Church, Budapest, not of ideal bloom, tending to the spatial. Notes are good. Recommendation must remain with the Borodin; I prefer their Melodiya recordings though many will welcome the perceived increase in spontaneity of their live Teldec account. But Naxos has given us a reasonable and plausible cheap alternative.

Jonathan Woolf

See also review by John Phillips


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