Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quartet No.10 in E flat major D87
Quartettsatz in C minor D703
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
String Quartet No.2 in A minor Op.51
String Quartet No.3 in B flat major Op.67 - Agitato
Borodin Quartet
rec. January 2010, Cité de la musique, Paris
Menus: English, Picture NTSC/16:9, Sound LPCM Stereo, Region 0 (worldwide)
You’ll find that the cover photograph of the Borodin Quartet shows them far happier than in the concert. Avuncular, amused, almost twinkly in repose in the booklet, the foursome is taut, grim and almost curt when taking its bows. No one said that a quartet must be unctuous but their demeanour certainly belies the inviting bonhomie of that photograph.
This latest line-up of the Borodin is, however, unquestionably outstanding. Ruben Aharonian is now the first violinist, having taken over the illustrious chair from predecessors Rostislav Dubinsky and after him Mikhail Kopelman. The original line-up, it’s worth remembering, was Dubinsky, Vladimir Rabeij, Rudolf Barshai and Mstislav Rostropovich. The current second violin is Andrei Abramenkov, the violist is Igor Niadin and the cellist Vladimir Balshin. Together they have largely lightened the rather heavy, and heavily vibrated Borodin style of the 1980s and 1990s. For the better, one feels, in central European classics.
The camera angles in this filmed performance are thoroughly sensible, and one commends the director for them. However, because the quartet is quite tightly grouped one can’t always see Abramenkov, who’s sometimes obscured by Aharonian which is something I find rather frustrating. Nevertheless, the performances are splendid. The Schubert is warmly textured and this newish line-up of the ensemble ensures that whilst bow pressure is taut it’s never over-heavy, and that there is correspondingly quicksilver lightness in the finale of the E flat major. My only complaint about the production comes in the somewhat crude shot of a light behind the stage before the start of the Quartettsatz.
There are plenty of expressive gestures in the Brahms A minor, but all are to the good. This is warm and malleable playing the sonority of which is thankfully loyally captured by effective microphone placement. There is a substantial ‘bonus’ in the shape of the same composer’s third movement from his Op.67 quartet.
Maybe the reason the Borodin looked so glum was the rather horrible concert hall in which they were playing, the arid Cité de la musique, Paris. It looks like the kind of building in which you’re more likely to butcher livestock. Fortunately you can focus on the Borodin instead.
Jonathan Woolf  

Warm and malleable playing the sonority of which is loyally captured.