> Tchaikovsky - String Quartets 1&3 [TB]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Opus 11
String Quartet No. 3 in E flat minor, Opus 30
St Lawrence String Quartet
Rec 20-16 April 2001, The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Vancouver
EMI CLASSICS CDC5 57144 [69.42]


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The previous disc by the St Lawrence Quartet, of music by Schumann, made a very favourable impression, and this Tchaikovsky issue makes a worthy successor.

Tchaikovsky writes marvellously for strings, whether in orchestral or in chamber music, and the St Lawrence Quartet are aware of the subtle nuances of expression on which his musical style is founded. They play as a team, beyond the obvious sense that a string quartet must, and their performances give the impression of having been thoroughly researched and thought through. Thus it is that the wonderful early Quartet in D, Opus 11, has a bitter-sweet quality, of melancholy lurking behind a generally outgoing disposition.

If the performance of the D major Quartet has a fault it is in the balance of the ensemble, or at least of the recording. The cello seems forwardly projected, to the extent that the perspective is slightly unbalanced. There is nothing untoward about this, however, since the richer sonorities that result give the music a different interpretative flavour. But if forced to issue a single recommendation, it would go to the remarkable performance by the Borodin Quartet (Teldec 4509 90422 2). The St Lawrence players still give much pleasure, especially in the famous Andante cantabile slow movement.

The performance of the Third Quartet is most convincing. In this piece the lengthy first movement, at nearly 17 minutes, is the special challenge, and the St Lawrence players rise to it with expressive conviction and technical command. After this the short Allegro vivo is intended as a relief, and the lively darting rhythms do prove the perfect foil. Then the third movement, funereal in character, resumes the tragic intensity, and this mood is once again projected with expressive conviction and intensity. The finale, characterised by Tchaikovsky's 'risoluto' description', attempts to achieve triumph out of grief.

This is an excellent performance, and the recording is good too, an unqualified success after the qualified success of the First Quartet. This is altogether a splendid disc, although the recording by the Borodin Quartet is better still.

Terry Barfoot

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