Following years of critical neglect, the Tchaikovsky quartets have gained in popularity to the point that there are now a substantial number of complete cycles available on disc. The finest of these remain the all-encompassing Borodin Quartet (Chandos), the Gabrieli Quartet for their gripping spontaneity and expressive intensity (Decca) and the compelling emotional poignancy of the Keller Quartet (Warner).
The IPO Richter Quartet, founded only six years ago by members of the Israel Philharmonic and led by concertmaster Ilya Konovalov is clearly a musical force to be reckoned with. The quartets allow the players to display their sensual tonal voicing, spotless intonational blend and imposing technical command the IPO Richter – even when Tchaikovsky goes into meltdown they retain an immaculately balanced ensemble, with viola and cello lines emerging clearly through the occasionally swirling textures in just the right places. The exemplary engineering retains chamber-scale detail while projecting a seductive warmth that sits hand-in-glove with Tchaikovsky’s opulent sound world.
More than in any other recording of the quartets, one knows exactly what is going on in all four parts, with refreshingly little sense of first-violin dominance. By keeping the music perfectly in scale and retaining a chamber-room projection there is rarely any sensation of these works being string orchestra music writ small, while Tchaikovsky’s balletic invention and structuring pass by seamlessly. All I miss is a sense of the music being really lived through, of a burning interpretative urgency, but this is still an impressive achievement.
From the June 2012 issue. Subscribe to The Strad or download our digital edition as part of a 30-day free trial.