Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us


Beethoven: String Quartets (Complete)

Borodin Quartet

Recorded 2003/4 at the Moscow Conservatory

Chandos - CHAN10553 (8 discs c.£39 from Presto Classical)

Here is the latest released set of the intégrale which every string quartet wants to do, hard on the heels of the cycles from the Wihans and the Orions.

In 2004 we attended two recitals in the Borodin Quartet's Beethoven cycle at the City of London Festival*, and good they were, though a little austere in manner and playing, without the charisma of, say, the Wihans, who rather dominate the scene just now.

The remarkable thing about the Borodins has been their continuity; their illustrious cellist Valentin Berlinsky (1925-2008); - - Berlinsky's six decades with the Borodins endured Stalinism, post-Stalinism, and finally post-Communism. Throughout, he came to symbolise the quartet's musical depth, intellectual rigour and philosophical understanding of the chamber music canon.

Berlinsky was the only quartet member who played in its successive reincarnations from the very first day of its foundation. In 1944, he took part in founding a students’ string quartet, which later was affiliated to the Moscow Philharmonic and in 1955 came to be called the Borodin Quartet. He retired in 2007 and was replaced by Vladimir Balchin. 2nd violinist Andrei Abramenkov had joined in 1974 and the current leader Ruben Aharonian and violist Igor Naidin joined in 1996.

This is possibly not competitive with the greatest cycles, but should not be passed by. It is conveniently presented in a boxed set of eight discs, in slip cases which are easily handled. There is a biography of the quartet, but no notes about the music.

Before considering buying a complete Beethoven Quartets set on CD, I'd advise to get The Whihan Quartet's live Prague DVD of a large selection of early, mid- and late examples.

Mozart - Duo Sonatas Volume 2

Violin Sonatas Nos. 17 in C major, K296; 21 in E minor, K304; 22 in A major, K305 & 23 in D major, K306

Catherine Mackintosh and Geoffrey Govier (Duo Amadè)

Chandos Chaconne - CHAN0764

This is a well presented and documented release by Duo Amadè, who play on "authentic" instruments - an Anton Walter/Christopher Clare fortepiano and in Cluny a 1703 Giovanni Grancino violin. However, despite the claims for it, I found this release stronger on scholarship than charm. There is a particularly interesting exploration of the prevalence of sets of six in 18th C publishing and several contemporary illustrations.

Martinů - Chamber Works

Piano Quartet No. 1, H. 287
Quartet for Oboe, Violin, Cello & Piano, H. 315
Piano Trio No. 3 in C major, H332
Duo for Violin and Cello No. 2, H. 371

George Caird (oboe)
Schubert Ensemble

Chandos - CHAN10551

The Schubert Ensemble is the Birmingham Conservatoire’s Ensemble-in-Residence and it is a happy thought to have recorded this disc with George Caird oboist, the Conservatoire’s Principal. The posthumously published oboe quartet of this prolific composer (1947) is lightweight and short, but well worth its inclusion for variety of timbre.

Martinu is not given to prolixity. The Duo (1958) is a useful, compact addition to that slim (?) repertoire. The 20 mins trio included here (1951) is the grandest of his four.

The Piano Quartet (1942) is a joyous piece, wholly typical of the composer with a motoric first movement and a deeply affecting adagio. He began composing symphonies soon afterwards; a cycle of them is being given in the autumn/winter season at The Barbican, beginning October 3rd; they will also be broadcast.

No composer is so regularly recognisable instantly as Martinu, and his huge oeuvre is a treasure trove for musicians seeking novelties. The Schubert Ensemble is reliable and more; these performances are given with verve and well recorded at Potton Hall, with plenty of presence.


Peter Grahame Woolf

Martinů Chamber Music with Flute

Sonata for Flute, Violin and Piano, H. 254
Flute Sonata, H. 306
Sextet, H. 174
Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano, H. 300

F. Smith, Pinkas, Ferrillo, T. Martin, Ranti, Nelson, Martinson, Ryder

Naxos 8.572467
TT: 01:08:50

It used to be thought that Martinů's prolificity was a little reprehensible and that too many works were consequently sub-standard. I subscribed to that opinion after reviewing, long, long ago, Radoslav Kvapil´s first two volumes of Bohuslav Martinu's complete piano works (ADDA/Paris - nla). Indeed, since then I have been more than sceptical of all integrales which, so I was given to understand, are favoured by the French?

But latterly recording musicians have been anxious to put their personal stamps upon CDs, and Fenwick Smith has come up trumps with his selection for recording with eminent colleagues, most of them section leaders in the Boston Symphony Orcestra. The Flute Sonata, written in USA, incorporates the song of the whippoorwill of New England. Both trios should find keen interpreters in the music colleges and academies, the cello adding some gravitas to H. 300. And members of bassoon departments ought to find colleagues willing to join with two bassoons (!) for the sextet, a splendid concert piece as, indeed, are all the others collected here.

Fenwick Smith provides good historical and analytic notes to the illustrated insert booklet; fine up-front recording in New England. Martinů has a great future still for musicians wanting to include premiere recordings on their promo discs.

Peter Grahame Woolf