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Quartets by Dvorak / Tchaikovsky / Borodin - Escher String Quartet

Quartets by Dvorak / Tchaikovsky / Borodin - Escher String Quartet

BIS  BIS-2280

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber


Dvorak: String Quartet in F major, Op. 96, ‘American'
Tchaikovsky: String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11
Borodin: String Quartet No. 2 in D major (1881)

Escher String Quartet


‘Full-blooded quartet playing in the grand, classic manner: extrovert and eloquent’ is how the performances of the Escher String Quartet were described in a review of their recording of Mendelssohn’s first and fourth quartets in BBC Music Magazine. After completing the three-disc cycle of Mendelssohn quartets –and earning further accolades, including a nomination to the 2017 BBC Music Magazine Awards –the quartet now returns with a programme which leaves plenty of opportunity for their special brand of playing.

Composed between 1873 (Tchaikovsky) and 1893 (Dvořák), the three quartets gathered on this disc form a catalogue of unforgettable tunes and of emotions ranging from nostalgia to the most infectious joy. Each of the three composers wrote more than one quartet –Dvořák’slist of works includes as many 14! –but the ones recorded here are by far their best-loved. A contributing fact is surely that they all three include slow movements that tug at every listener’s heartstrings. Especially Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile and Borodin’s Notturno have become favourites in their own right, and exist in arrangements for every possible combination of instruments. But there is more to these works than the slow movements: throughout each quartet there is a wealth of melodic invention, rhythmic vitality and lyric fleetness which the Escher’s know how to exploit to the full.

 

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - July 14, 2018

Having seen and heard so much enthusiasm for this release, I didn’t think my comments would add much to this wonderful disc, which will surely please many hi-res addicts, as it wins on practically all counts. However, I’ve now come to realize that possibly less informed members, browsing our data base for selecting the best recordings of any of the three works, may, in the absence of ‘stars’ attached to it, overlook this one. Now it’s done. All five of them.

There are nonetheless two points I would like to raise. Firstly, the playing is almost too perfect, reminding me of the famous Alban Berg Quartet, which, in my view, sometimes led to a subjective feeling of less emotional involvement. This is certainly not the case here, as will be easily proven by listening to the Andante Cantabile in Tchaikovsky and the Notturno in Borodin, both played with exceptional and deeply felt affection. No, the only possible unwanted fall-out is that, once your ears and brain are used to this kind of perfection, comparable recordings on your shelf risk losing some of their previously cherished splendor. We may assume that sound and mixing engineer, Thore Brinkmann, has been instrumental in that he has cleverly selected all the right takes to compose in the post production process the best possible end result.

My second point pertains to the collectors of ‘completeness’, and especially those, who do not have the means to order too many doubles. However, I do believe that in this particular case it’s perhaps a small price to pay. Looking at competing versions of Dvorak’s ‘American’, I could suggest Dvorak/Smetana - Tokyo String Quartet ; for Tchaikovsky there is this one worth considering: Tchaikovsky: String Quartets, Vol 1 - Utrecht String Quartet; whereas for Borodin I much liked Klang der Welt: Russia - Deutsche Oper Berlin. However, for those who want all three, the Eschers are the clear winners. The mores so, because their tuneful palette is so vividly underpinned by using genuine period instruments, making the strings glow, avoiding every sense of harshness, whilst lending the music a rare kind of tonal warmth.

According to the liner notes “The Escher Quartet takes its name from Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher, inspired by Escher’s method of interplay between individual components working together to form a whole”. Let me take it one step further: Like Martin Escher, they can melt any score into a multi-facetted, intertwined sound experience.

Blangy-le-Château,
Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2018 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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Comment by breydon_music - May 2, 2018 (1 of 5)

There were plenty of comments on this site regarding this ensemble's Mendelssohn quartet series on BIS so I'm quite puzzled at the silence regarding this. In over 50 years of classical record collecting I think this is by far and away the best performance of the American quartet I've heard. The Tchaikovsky and Borodin performances are also excellent if not quite on the same level as the Dvorak. This really is a chamber disc packed with good tunes, and of course it goes without saying that the recording does it all wonderful justice. Whoever you already have in this repertoire - and the more so if you haven't! - give this one a try; another BIS winner!

Comment by William Hecht - May 8, 2018 (2 of 5)

I agree wholeheartedly, it's a "greatest hits" disc that really delivers.

Comment by Bruce Zeisel - May 15, 2018 (3 of 5)

How does the Zemlinsky compare? I like that one very much!

Comment by William Hecht - May 16, 2018 (4 of 5)

Sorry, Bruce, I don't have that one to compare.

Comment by breydon_music - May 17, 2018 (5 of 5)

I did have the Zemlinsky but haven't now, so from memory I would say they are cooler, more "classical". It occurs to me, relative to a separate debate on this site a while ago, that if you like Steinbacher's way with violin concertos (perhaps especially the Britten / Hindemith disc) then you will warm to this. I do, and I do!