Russian chamber music is in general not much recorded, so this release ought to be of interest on its face to Russian music enthusiasts. Novelty, in fact, seems to have been one of the primary determinants of the program selection; Alexander Borodin wrote several chamber pieces as a young man, and the only reason for the inclusion of the incomplete String Sextet No. 2 in D minor here is that it is all but unknown. It's a cheery work in a Mendelssohnian idiom, attractive but not quite able to live up to its top billing. The String Quintet in A major, Op. 39, of Glazunov resembles other Russian chamber pieces with its primarily pizzicato scherzo: it feels like a miniature orchestral work. Most unusual and distinctive is the String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 35, for the combination of violin, viola, and two cellos, by Anton Arensky. The work was composed in 1894 as an homage to Tchaikovsky and quotes one of his works in the central theme and variations. Like many of Arensky's compositions, this quartet is contrapuntally quite intricate, yet the distinctive scoring, appropriate to the work's memorial purpose, lends it an instantly accessible somber mood. It's a real find for chamber recitalists, and it's worth the purchase price for the album. The performances by Britain's Nash Ensemble have the buttoned-down quality that can be fatal in Russian music, but they're of little impediment here.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|String Sextet in D minor|
|String Quintet in A, Op. 39|
|String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 35|