Review by Beagle July 31, 2005 (6 of 8 found this review helpful)
|The audio pedigree of the RPO super-audios is ambiguous: the redbook edition of this disc bears the following subscript: "32 Bit Digital Sound / High Quality Audiofile [sic] Edition", whatever that is. But with no other Borodin quartets on offer, I bought this bargain-price disc (no bargain after transatlantic postage). The question is, of course, What does it sound like?
For comparison I have 2 RBCDs: (1) a 1983 DDD St Petersburg Quartet (re?)released by Sony, and (2) a 1980 ADD Borodin Quartet from Melodiya via EMI. My first discovery is that the Sony recording is really lame. My second discovery was that the Melodiya recording actually sounds better than the RPO at times -- not always and not often, but occasionally the cello steps forward on the RBCD more than on the SACD. In general, SACD has more brilliance and sweetness at the top and more resonance at the bottom, no surprise. What is surprising, is how much sweetness and depth the old Melodiya CD possesses: a close second to the RPO disc.
Musically, the Borodins slightly outplay the RPO Chamber Ensemble*, If you do NOT know this quartet as the music from the movie Kismet, then you live a more blessed existence than me, but you will know this music, because it is unforgetably tuneful. It is a slow tune, wistful, sad. But! as the Bordins know, it is also light, airy, wing-borne. Although the Borodins take the 1st movement at the same tempo as the RPOs (8:15 vs 8:13), the former lilt along, while the latter seem to be dragging one foot (something the St Petes also do). The RPO takes less time for the whole work (27:14 vs 28:53), but it never reaches escape velocity. Why not record Borodin No. 1 with No. 2? The pairing with Dvorák's 'American' quartet has a distinct "World's Greatest..." odour to it.
The competition is again a pair of RBCDs, (1) the Prazakova on Praga and (2) the Travniceks on Koch/Discover. The comparison is very similar to above: one CD, the Prazak/Praga, lags in distant 3rd place, with the Koch/Discover CD giving the RPO SACD a run for the money. Yes, the SACD has brilliant top, resonant bottom, but again it is only marginally better than the good CD. It is NOT stupendously, breath-takingly better, which is the whole point of SACD, yes?
Musically, the RPO ensemble* takes advantage of the warmer sound of SACD, and plucks a few more homesick czech heart-strings. Dvorák seems to suit their melancholy approach here, more than in the Borodin.
*This is not a professional quartet; it is four rather good musicians who usually play in an orchestra. Perhaps this is the reason that the liner notes give a detailed history of RPO and and the name of director/1st violinist, and even such irrelevant trivia as name of Music Director Designate -- but NOT name of 2nd violinist, violist or cellist. In my experience, this is unprecedented. I finally googled out the personnel for the RPO Chamber Ensemble qua Quartet:
Carney, Jonathan: violin
Ovens, Raymond: violin
Williams, Andrew: viola
Lidström, Mats: cello
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