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String Quartet movement in B flat
String Quartet no. 1 in D ; 2 in F ; 3 in E flat minor
Souvenir de Florence for string sextet.

Borodin String Quartet with Genrikh Talalyan ( second viola) and Mstiislav Rostropovich (second cello).
Chandos CHAN9871(2) 2CDs Midprice
Crotchet  .

How much better are Tchaikovsky's string quartets than his symphonies, ballets and orchestral scores. His songs are almost perfection although the Second Quartet is not successful. There is more intimacy and beauty in the first and third quartets than, say, in the Romeo and Juliet Overture.

The String Quartet movement in B flat dates from 1865 and seems to be based on Ukrainian folk melodies. It is not very original or mature. The String Quartet no.1 may be the first important quartet written by a Russian composer and it is an almost perfect creation. The performance of the opening Moderato e semplice is a sheer delight. I have often wondered why the famous second movement, the Andante cantabile, has become so popular when the whole quartet is at the same level of beauty. The mellow tones of the Borodin Quartet is very refreshing. It is truly a lovely performance and very rewarding... tender, dolce, immaculately played and communicates instantly and with great effect. It has the charm and grace ot Mendlessohn although David Nice in his sleeve notes falsely suggests Schubert. No, a greater than Schubert is here!

Although I have serious reservations about Tchaikovsky he did employ musical form and modulation in his work whereas Schubert did not. He did not have a clue. Take, as an example, the opening movement of Schubert's Fifth Symphony. How many times does that main theme appear and it is always in B flat. It never modulates; It never develops. Very poor craftsmanship. It is stupid to compare a great work or great composer with an inferior one.

The andante cantabile begins as if it were the sound of a church organ in this glowing account. The Borodins avoid sentimentality and have exactly the right tempi... just perfect. The other great thing about Tchaikovsky was that he could write convincing slow movements. The scherzo is expertly judged and the finale is wonderfully warm.. observe the glorious tone of the viola. Sensational! The performance is very professional but not clinical. The works ends with a moment or two of stupid immaturity by Tchaikovsky just before a rousing coda.

The Quartet no. 2 suffers from emotionalism and is rather poor. Sad, gypsy-like music pervades the opening and the Moderato section has a simple, banal theme. When it is high in the first violin it has a shrill sinister connotation. But the music stops and starts too much for me.The scherzo also has an inane theme. And the third movement, which is another slow movement, is full of nauseous emotion in the Elgar vein. It has one or two fine moments but at 12 and an half minutes it is too long! The finale opens with a unison passage and its main theme is also somewhat daft. It is diffcult to say whether this quartet is banal or puerile. And we have a fugue. It is a work that is too self-indulgent for the public to adequately respond to. And, for the musical detective, you will hear traces of the Fourth and Sixth symphonies and, for the very discerning, Away in a manager. William Kirkpatrick would not have been pleased.

The Third Quartet is a masterpiece. Elegiac in character, immediate in communication, perfectly played. Here Tchaikovsky combines the classical lines of the First Quartet with the emotional content of the Second but without the banality. It is difficult... no, it is impossible to put into words any exact description of this very fine acheivement. It has everything., absolutely everything. It has tenderness, compassion, depth, warmth, power and excitement and it teems with melodious ideas beautifully worked and developed. And the performance is truly amazing. No wonder Shostakovich loved the piece and used the same remote key of E flat minor for his last quartet.

Tchaikovsky's Third Quartet is one of the greats.... it truly is.

And the disc is completed by the Souvenir de Florence , a popular tuneful work but it does not have the qualities of the E flat minor quartet. For those who like light Tchaikovsky you will love this piece but, as for me, I will avoid the Souvenir de Florence in favour of a quartet that is so good, so compelling, so realistic to life, so utterly soul-satisfying that the Souvenir sounds so cheap alongside it.

The performances are first rate.. very special, and the recording captures the warmth and intimacy to perfection. Worth having for the First and Third Quartets.

David Wright



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