Utrecht String Quartet

Tschaikowsky: String Quartets Vol. 1

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Even though Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky is not recognized as one of the great composers of string quartets, his modest attempts in the genre are attractive and worth hearing for their lovely themes and charming moods. This hybrid SACD from MDG offers the first two numbered string quartets in ingratiating performances by the Utrecht String Quartet, which plays with a warm tone and sweet ensemble blend that ideally suit these chamber works. Since Tchaikovsky's efforts at quartet writing involved little of the traditional repartee between instruments and leaned more toward the song impulse. Note the memorable Andante cantabile in the String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11, one of Tchaikovsky's finest melodies; the textures are largely homophonic and require a group to play at many points like a single instrument, instead of in the accustomed manner of four highly differentiated voices. The Utrecht has great unity of purpose here, and to the extent that the players have surrendered their musical identities to that of the group for the sake of the music, their homogenized playing is admirable. Even so, there is a bit more freedom in the writing of the String Quartet No. 2 in F major, Op. 22, which gives the musicians an opportunity to open up and show a little more personality. MDG's direct sound recording is clean and vibrant, and the strings have a marvelous presence without too much close-up grittiness.

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