Borodin Quartet

Beethoven: String Quartets, Vol. 2

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One reveres the Borodin Quartet. The group that made the first and second complete cycles of the Shostakovich quartets, that made the finest and warmest recordings of the Borodin quartets, the deepest and most affectionate recordings of the Tchaikovsky quartets, the group that was the Union of the Soviet Socialistic Republic's preeminent string quartet certainly deserves reverence.

But it is time for the current Borodin Quartet to stop recording. While the group's new violinists are relatively young, its violist is old and its cellist is older, and their age is adversely affecting their playing. Remember how the Budapest Quartet in the '50s and the Juilliard Quartet in the '90s were exhausted shadows of their former selves? That is the Borodin Quartet in the 2000s. What was once strong and vital is now torpid and lethargic and more than a little out of tune. In this March 2003 recording of Beethoven's String Quartets Op. 59/2 and Op. 74, the Borodin's torpidity is bad enough when it slows the Presto fugal finale of Op. 59/2 to something closer to an Allegretto, but it is even worse when it slows the Adagio ma non troppo of Op. 74 to something closer to a Lento. At these tempos, the long line of Beethoven's taut and tensile music frays and breaks and thus is no longer Beethoven's music. And what could be worse than that? Chandos' sound is close and rich.

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