The Lindsays have been one of the dominant forces in the string quartet world for the past 25 years or so, and have released superb accounts of quartets by Beethoven, Haydn and Tippett amongst others on the ASV label. Sadly their retirement is imminent, but before they go there’s a welcome diversion off the beaten track into the world of Borodin.
Alexander Borodin was full time chemist and part time composer of the opera Prince Igor and colourful orchestral works. His contribution to the string quartet lies in two of the first Russian quartets to attain prominence in the repertoire, starting in 1875 with the lyrical first and ending ten years later with the summery second.
ASV have generously included the unfinished two movement String Sextet here, with the Lindsays joined by viola player Louise Williams and cellist Raphael Wallfisch in a fulsome reading of a work that owes a lot to Mendelssohn, its harmony and melody adapted to please German music listeners.
The quartets are the main attraction here though, and the Lindsays bring off the soft nocturnal introduction to the first with consummate ease. Once the ‘Allegro’ gets going though things get a little ragged for the second main theme.
The real success of this performance is in the playful, jabbing motifs of the Scherzo, leading to some ghostly harmonies in the trio, bringing out the imaginative writing for strings. There’s also a few problems with tuning towards the end of the finale, but a successful performance nonetheless of a charming work.
The second quartet is better known and cellist Bernard Gregor Smith excels here, both in the sunny opening theme and the famous Notturno. The light and shade, stop start of the finale is well done, although the competition is fierce in the shape of the Borodin Quartet, whose EMI recordings of these works remain unsurpassed.
That’s only my opinion of course – the Lindsays offer a viable alternative, and if it’s a modern digital recording you’re after then you need look no further.