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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
String Quartet No.1 in D major Op.11
String Quartet No.2 in F major Op.22
String Quartet No.3 in E flat minor Op.30
Souvenir de Florence in D minor Op.70
The Borodin Quartet: Mikhail Kopelman and Andrei Abramen (violins), Dimitri Shebalin (viola), Valentin Berlinsky (cello) with Genrikh Talalyan (viola) and Mstislav Rostropovich (cello) in Op.70
Recorded 1965 (Souvenir) and 1979
AULOS MUSIC AMC2 024 [67.03 + 71.45]

The Borodin Quartet has made repeated recorded forays into these works over the years but I would still want to draw attention to this reissue, utilising the original Melodiya tapes and issued by Korean company Aulos. They have also released a magnificent series of Shafran discs – like him or loathe him he is a magnetic artist. Their commitment to ensuring that his legacy is properly perpetuated should be acknowledged and admired. Their Borodin/Tchaikovsky double CD set is much less contentious and the only question to be answered is whether you prefer their ostensibly more warm later readings (see the 1993 Teldec). The Aulos recordings are compelling examples of a perfect balance between the dictates of stringent architectural concerns and an emotive generosity that never for a moment compromises that spine of construction.

Almost needless to say, the 1979 D major goes so well. The sensitivity over matters of dynamics and corporate diminuendi is palpable as is the holding in check of glutinous expression in the slow movement; it tends to work better this way. Then again the elegance and drive of the finale can’t be faulted. Valuable as this recording is – and there aren’t many better in the catalogue in terms of idiomatic understanding, it’s even more important that the recordings of the Second and Third Quartets are here. These two still need advocacy, not least because the long first and third movements can sag in less fluent and feeling hands. With the Borodins the Second, recorded in 1978, is a taut and pensive work, opening with heightened expectation and developing through the fugal passages with drama and gusto. Kopelman proves himself a master of shading in his recapitulation passages in the first movement.

The opening movement of the Third is considerably longer even than the Second – the whole work here lasts some thirty-seven minutes – but it doesn’t seem so here. The rich harmonies, the strong first violin role, the gravity and ensuing folk lilt of viola and cello are all rapturously well judged – as indeed is the lyric, typically introspective close of the movement. Dynamics are intense in the slow movement but there sounds to be an edit at 1.05 in the pizzicato passage in the finale (the only one I really noticed). For the Souvenir de Florence they were joined by the all-star Genrikh Talalyan (viola) and Mstislav Rostropovich (cello). The inner voices are notably well caught and this is a bold, warmly-etched reading full of communicative generosity – though the 1965 sound can’t of course compare with the Teldec where the Borodins were joined by Yurov and Milman.

There are no English notes – though there are extensive ones in Korean – but the set is housed in a spruce box and has been remastered in DSD – Direct Stream Direct – a system that’s extensively described in the booklet. It sounds finely successful to me – not edgy or bright, but warm and subtle.

Jonathan Woolf

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