. . . the world's greatest string quartet . . .
This first disc in a new complete cycle of Shostakovich's works for string quartets exudes authority. The playing of the current four members has a molten intensity, a restraint that never seeks quick or easy effects. It's fitting that the performance of such an august group should take the long view.
What I like most about this recording, besides the quartet's gorgeously rich sound, is the straight-up sincerity of the playing. The First Quartet is full-bodied and lyrical; the work's tuneful simplicity isn't loaded with innuendo. The 14th Quartet is frank and impassioned. The Eighth opens with grainy solemnity and the movements unfold with moving candour. Nothing is overstated or hysterical, and there's no chance of the gaudy romp that this work can become . . . the sobriety is hugely dignified.
The naivety of Quartet no. 1 gives way to the autobiographical, despairing no. 8, the Borodins reaching right down into the depths of its bitter universal torment before offering some relief with the whimsy and warmth of no. 14. Prepare to be profoundly stirred.
. . . [the String Quartet's] introductory musing is broken by agitation of such urgency that you can feel the players, celebrating the ensemble's 70th anniversary, jumping out of their seats. I'm on the edge of mine for the follow-up CDs.
. . . profound expressive power.
. . . [the Borodin Quartet's traditionally rich string sound and solid technique is evident] in the opening movement of quartet No.1 . . . So too is the feeling for the idiom, and as the genial and seemingly simple C major music develops more ambiguity, the Borodins are alert to the nuanced playing required to cast shadows upon the serene surface . . . The 8th quartet also receives a good performance with plenty of drama and fine playing . . . The 14th quartet receives the best performance . . . The central Adagio is especially poignant here, searching and affecting . . . [as the first post-Soviet Shostakovich cycle from the Borodin Quartet,] this makes an auspicious start . . .
. . . [Shostakovich 14]: The central "Adagio" is especially poignant here, searching and affecting . . .
The current line-up fully sustains the tonal refulgence, technical indomitability and interpretative acuity for which this ensemble is renowned. Yet, complemented by engineering of glowing sophistication, the players probe beneath the music's surface . . .
The Borodin Quartet brings some subtle ideas to the often restrained slower movements as well as great passion to the Allegros . . . They often reveal a subtle pulse behind this quiet, withdrawn music giving such care and thought to every phrase. . . these are very individual, one might even say, idiosyncratic performances. However they dig deep into the composer's creations making one hear these works afresh.
. . . the Borodin plays very, very well, and their recording is outstanding. They are musical, accurate, and deep. While deep, they are never pretentious or self-important. The String Quartet No. 1, I must say, is compulsively listenable . . .
. . . the first of Shostakovich's quartets is a relatively light-hearted, untroubled work, or so it seems in this performance by the current Borodin Quartet . . . [with their warm tone and relaxed approach, these players] produce beautiful sounds, and the brilliant "Allegro" finale is satisfying . . . In the Eighth Quartet, grief and anguish are right at the surface . . . the gorgeous, bass-weighted sonority of the Borodin players, almost orchestral in scale, is unmatched by any other performance I know of in tonal opulence, except perhaps for that of the original Borodin Quartet . . . The rich, throbbing tone creates its own form of emotional intensity, but these players do not rely on tonal opulence alone to convey their message; their reading is also characterized by precise articulation, textural detail, and much expressive shaping . . . [Quartet no. 14]: the performance on this release is a fine one, with precise, incisive execution and exceptional clarity of texture. It is once again characterized by unusual tonal weight and richness . . . In the hands of the Borodin players, climaxes have tremendous thrust, while lyrical passages have an extra degree of tonal beauty . . . The sound of this recording is exceptional in smoothness, realism, spaciousness, clarity, color, and definition of the individual instruments. No other recordings of these works I have encountered come as close as this one to conveying the illusion of an actual string quartet playing in the room . . . this release is a success overall and a worthy continuation of the Borodin's Shostakovich tradition.
All the newest members play beautifully, and Decca presents them in wonderfully clear sound that gives us inner detail and overall impact at the same time . . . their playing tends towards delicacy and refinement, particularly from first violinist Ruben Aharonian . . . [the present-day Borodin Quartet has a smooth style] that is perfectly blended -- they sound like one instrument -- and stylistically seamless . . . These performances of Quartets Nos. 1, 8, and 14 are exemplary as execution . . . [the lyrical and lilting No. 1] suits the refined lightness that prevails here . . .