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  MDG 903 1798-6
  Tchaikovsky: String Quartets Vol. 2 - Utrecht String Quartet
  Tchaikovsky: String Quartet No.3; Children's Album, Op 39 (arr for String Quartet by Rostislav Dubinsky)

Utrecht String Quartet
Track listing:
  Classical - Chamber
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Related titles: 1

Reviews: 1

Review by steviev December 21, 2013 (3 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
The Utrecht Quartet clearly has the measure of Tchaikovsky's long, complex quartets, in macro and micro terms, both the long-range dramaturgic sweep of each movement and every fleeting detail. It's obvious they've lived as a group with this music for some time and have thought through their approach with care (which may explain the interminable five-year gap between volumes 1 and 2), and they execute their shared vision impressively -- as a group.

There are some individual nits to pick. The first violinist when playing loud does sometimes press her bow hard through the strings, and her tone suffers for it, turning strident and gritty. I suppose, so overcome was she by the passion and the fury, that such pedestrian and Earthly concerns as clean intonation needs must be cast aside, O gods! Or something like that. It's a bit hysterical for my taste, but she doesn't do it all the time; it's just a special sauce she throws on when the going gets ripe. The second violinist has occasional abrasive tone, mercifully less intense than her coworker.

Cellist is fine. The violist sounds wonderful. He plays a rather large viola, and his tone is so full, deep, and rich that I sometimes mistake him for the cellist. It's too bad Tchaikovsky in his quartets rarely gives the violist a chance to shine. I hope MDG lets him record some solo stuff -- I'd love to hear him shorn of his mates.

Don Vroon in American Record Guide unfairly trashed volume 1 of this survey, saying the Utrechters play without vibrato, scrape scrape scrape. Not true. They apply vibrato to almost every sustained note, but they do eschew it for expressive purposes on occasion and sometimes even for long stretches, and they do so effectively. I completely disagree with Vroon's dismissive review of volume 1.

As fill to Quartet #3, we get the uber-charming Children's Album, originally written for piano, transcribed for strings by the first violinist of the old Borodin Quartet. You know, as fun as these pieces are, the piano writing is awkward and unidiomatic, which is really surprising considering that Tchaikovsky was an expert pianist. So this transcription is superior in musical effect to the piano original. The Utrechters are mostly convincing in these simple, short pieces, though their "Playing Hobbyhorse" is laughably brisk -- more like "Experimenting with Dexedrine" -- and the "Waltz" is too fast, while the concluding "Chorale" has a puzzling passage of vibrato-free high notes reminiscent of a boy treble with intonation and pitch problems. Everything else is good.

Soundstage is fairly close, compact, and detailed, with viola and cello just right of center, first and second violin more to the left so that the image is a bit left-biased. But since the viola and cello push more air and thus sound weightier, the balance feels right. Bass is sufficient to ample. The recording was made in a medium-size shoebox hall with lots of hard surfaces, so there is some reverb.

Speaking of reverb, the 2+2+2 programme conveys more of it than the 4.0 option, no surprise. Also, the soundstage seems wider in 4.0 than 2+2+2 but the musicians more distant -- and maybe that's just because six speakers pour out more volume than four. The audible difference betwixt 4.0 and 2+2+2 is immediate and unmistakable. No rear-channel spatial F/X.

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Works: 2  

Peter Tchaikovsky - Children's Album, TH 141 Op. 39
Peter Tchaikovsky - String Quartet No. 3 in E flat minor, TH 113 Op. 30