String Quartet No. 2 in D Major; RAVEL: String Quartet in F Major –
Borodin String Quartet
BBC Legends BBCL 4063-2 73:40 (Distrib Koch) ****:
Inscribed August 29-31, 1962 in the Leath Town Hall at the Edinburgh
Festival, the three quartets on this disc testify to the rigorous,
propulsive discipline of the Borodin String Quartet, here making its
debut in Britain. Their sound is serene, severe, and driven in
unsentimental, literalist lines. The Eighth Quartet of Shostakovich
(1960) formed part of intense summer of Russian music in Edinburgh, in
which the Shostakovich Fourth Symphony and Twelfth Symphony had their
British premiers. The quartet is a kind of spiritual autobiography of
the composer, rife with his Schumannesque anagrams, allusions to his
own works, and intimations of mortality. A musical cousin would
be the Strauss Ein Heldenleben, except this wry and somber work plays
like a desolate piece of T.S. Eliot’s poetry. Rudolf Barshai, the viola
player with the group until 1953, orchestrated the five-movement work
under the auspices of Shostakovich.
The D Major Quartet of the ensemble’s namesake (they were originally
the Moscow Philharmonic Quartet) has many wonderful moments for the
cellist Valentin Berlinsky, especially in the well-trod Nocturne.
The F Major Scherzo has a mercurial Mendelssohnian airiness, with the
ensuing waltz enjoying a lilt that keeps it airborne as well. The last
movement, with its quirky antiphons and staggered part-writing, may owe
debts to Beethoven’s Op. 135. Most felicitous is the Borodin
Quartet’s rendition of the Ravel F Major Quartet (1902), where finesse
and coloristic dexterity conspire to paint ravishing pictures in sound.
With the production of BBC Legends in some kind of hiatus, we
collectors have the opportunity to catch up on the treasures that might
otherwise have got away.