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Boris TCHAIKOVSKY (1925-1996)
Complete String Quartets
CD 1
String Quartet No. 1 (1954) [18:50]
String Quartet No. 2 (1961) [23:18]
CD 2
String Quartet No. 3 (1967) [20:19]
String Quartet No. 4 (1972) [18:48]
String Quartet No. 5 (1974) [14:07]
String Quartet No. 6 (1976) [14:05]
Ilya Ioff (violin); Elena Raskova (violin); Lydia Kovalenko (viola); Alexey Massarsky (cello)
rec. St Catherine Lutheran Church, April 2008. DDD
NORTHERN FLOWERS NF/PMA9964-65 [42:12 + 67:28]
Experience Classicsonline

Another laurel goes to Northern Flowers and the Boris Tchaikovsky Society. The complete cycle of numbered quartets spans the whole creative lifetime bar the last two decades. There are some unnumbered student works outside the main canon but these have been disclaimed by the composer. We need not be preoccupied by them.
The First dates from the same year as the Sinfonietta. It is a work of saturated singing lines - of delight in melody. This is often presented in canon form yet never succumbs to stultifying academicism. The sound-world recalls an updated hybrid of the Sibelius Voces Intimae and Smetana First - yet more translucent than either. Contrast the Second which was written a year before the Piano Quintet (just reissued on Forum-Regis). This four movement work encompasses a more subdued world against which melody sings out as a still small voice confident in its capacity to transform. The allegro presents as a sinister night-march - slightly Britten-like. The Largo screws up the tension even tighter and this time the little voice seems to present no balm or escape.
The Third has its origins in the score for the film While The Front is Defensive. It's a six movement work which is by turns tense and confidingly pattering. It is full of acrid rasping attack, murmurous and invocatory episodes, chilly, expectant and consolatory. A chill of despair adds a degree of equivocation.
The Fourth returns to the three movement floor-plan of the First from almost twenty years before. This is a sometimes stern aggressive work yet with healing in the wings of the middle andante. The final andante is severe and offers little warmth to the needy heart. Instead there is a lyrical and quiet fragility that offers a low key but touching apotheosis.
The last two quartets are each in a single 14 minute movement. Like their two predecessors they are dedicated to the Prokofiev Quartet with whom Tchaikovsky recorded the Piano Quintet of 1962 (Forum-Regis). The Fifth returns to the lyrical pole addressed by the First Quartet. it again has a slender fragility - which we know from the end of the Fourth - presented above a trudging ostinato. The Sixth is packed with invention - some of it acrid, angular and high tensile. Even so Tchaikovsky  can never abdicate the singing voice that forms part of the warp and weft of his creative persona.
These are great works of the last century and largely unknown. They will reward your effort and investment. Given their head they will form part of the treasury of music that embraces your emotions and forms the backdrop to your life. Wonderful performances, not too breathy and pellucidly recorded.
Rob Barnett
see also the index of all Boris Tchaikovsky reviews on Musicweb International


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