Borodin Quartet

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Biography

“[…] their almost preternatural ability to synchronise as though they were one single instrument.”
The Independent

For more than seventy years, the Borodin Quartet has been celebrated for its insight and authority in the chamber music repertoire. Revered for its searching performances of Beethoven and Shostakovich, the Quartet is equally at home in music ranging from Mozart to Stravinsky.

Described by the Daily Telegraph Australia as “the Russian grand masters”, the Borodin Quartet’s particular affinity with Russian repertoire is based on constant promotion, performances and recording of the pillars of Russian string quartet music - Borodin, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, as well as Glinka, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Schnittke. The Quartet is universally recognised for its genuine interpretation of Russian music, generating critical acclaim all over the world; the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes about them “here we have not four individual players, but a single sixteen-stringed instrument of great virtuosity”.

The Quartet's connection with Shostakovich's chamber music is intensely personal, since it was stimulated by a close relationship with the composer, who personally supervised its study of each of his quartets. Widely regarded as definitive interpretations, the Quartet’s cycles of the complete Shostakovich's quartets have been performed all over the world, including Vienna, Zurich, Frankfurt, Madrid, Lisbon, Seville, London, Paris and New York. The idea of performing a complete cycle of Shostakovich's quartets originated with the Borodin Quartet. In recent seasons the ensemble has returned to a broader repertoire, including works by Schubert, Prokofiev, Borodin and Tchaikovsky, while continuing to be welcomed and acclaimed at major venues throughout the world.

The Borodin Quartet was formed in 1945 by four students from the Moscow Conservatory. Calling itself the Moscow Philharmonic Quartet, the group changed its name to Borodin Quartet ten years later and remains one of the very few existing established chamber ensembles with uninterrupted longevity. The world has changed beyond recognition since 1945; the Borodin Quartet, meanwhile, has retained its commitment to tonal beauty, technical excellence and penetrating musicianship. The ensemble’s cohesion and vision have survived successive changes in personnel, thanks not least to the common legacy shared by its members from their training at the Moscow Conservatory. The current members of the Quartet are Ruben Aharonian, Sergei Lomovsky, Igor Naidin and Vladimir Balshin.

In addition to performing quartets, the Borodin Quartet regularly joins forces with other distinguished musicians to further explore the chamber music repertoire. Their partners have included Sviatoslav Richter, Yuri Bashmet, Michael Collins, Mario Brunello, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Christoph Eschenbach, Boris Berezovsky, Denis Matsuev and Nikolai Lugansky. The Quartet also regularly receives invitations to give masterclasses, and to serve as jury members at major international competitions.

Highlights in 2016/17 include performances in London, Lyon, Bilbao, Pamplona, Madrid, Essen, Brugge, Miami, Puerto Rico, Bogotá, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Budapest, and Moscow, as well as a tour of China; playing quartets of Prokofiev, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Arensky Myaskovsky, Shostakovich – and of course Borodin; and quintets with partners including Alexei Volodin, Michael Collins, Joseph Kalichstein and Elisabeth Leonskaja. Furthermore, the Borodin Quartet joins the Staatskapelle Dresden Orchestra under the baton of Vladimir Jurowski for performances of the Martinu and Schulhoff concertos for orchestra and string quartet.

The Quartet’s first release on the Onyx label, featuring Borodin, Schubert, Webern and Rachmaninov, was nominated for a Grammy in 2005 in the “Best Chamber Performance” category. The Borodin Quartet has produced a rich heritage of recordings over several decades, for labels including EMI, RCA and Teldec, including the Complete Beethoven quartets for CHANDOS. The Quartet will be recording the complete Shostakovich String Quartet Cycle for Decca, with its first release in the cycle being a dedicated 70th anniversary CD (of string quartets Nos.1, 8, and 14), released in March 2015.

Calendar

The Borodin Quartet's appearance in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

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Repertoire
Review
Shostokovich String Quartets
The Guardian
Thu, 2015-04-09
There is real heritage here: formed in Moscow in 1945, the original Borodins learned Shostakovich’s quartets from the man himself. Marking the group’s 70th anniversary with a new complete cycle — of which this is the first instalment — the current members retain the interpretative clout of their lineage while asserting fresh voices. What I like most about this recording, besides the quartet’s gorgeously rich sound, is the straight-up sincerity of the playing. The First Quartet is full-bodied and lyrical; the work’s tuneful simplicity isn’t loaded with innuendo. The 14th Quartet is frank and impassioned. The Eighth opens with grainy solemnity and the movements unfold with moving candour. Nothing is overstated or hysterical, and there’s no chance of the gaudy romp that this work can become. Some might find it too uniformly beautiful, too polished, too upright, and it’s true that the Borodins don’t do much by way of wit or acerbic bite, but their the sobriety is hugely dignified.
Russian Quartet Art
Jyllandsposten
Tue, 2007-10-09
A famous quartet is in the country, giving four concerts in all. Three musicians have played together for a long time and have now been joined by a young cellist, but the homogeity is the same. The quartet played the music which has brought it so much fame; Alexander Borodin's two quartets and also quartets by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. Alexander Borodin's first quartet in A Major was a revelation and an experience, because the four musicians played with an inspiration as though they had composed the music themselves. Tchaikovsky's first quartet sounded equally convincing and energetic.
Highlight of Chamber Music in Copenhagen 2009
Kultunaut
Wed, 2009-04-29
The hope of a Russian encore was not fulfilled, when the Borodin Quartet was driven back by standing ovations into the small intimate hall in Mogens Dahl to complete an evening of Beethoven's String Quartets no. 7 and 8, with a last hunk of string music to feed the hungry audience. It was Beethoven once again. Of course it was Beethoven, because the Borodin Quartet has made it its metier, that one cannot clutter the opus numbers and then one cannot clutter the programme either. The quartet had not played many measures of the first allegro before it was lightingly clear that the Borodin Quartet does not play chamber music for fun. The notes are part of the quartet's DNA and the four musicians do not seem to achieve the sublime without symbiosis with each other, with the audience, with the composer. The symbiosis was particularly painful and enthralling in the long 7th quartet , and the third movement - adagio molto e mesto - a kind of flatlined sonata form with the absence of dramatic development, and thereby the beautiful pain is stretched even further. The instruments drew such lovely and rare trails into one's nervous system . The viola contrived to fill a special role in the performance as something else and more than the bitter counterbalance to the sweetness of the cello and the moroseness of the violins. It held its ground, insisting and with a unique sound, in particular in the faster movements. Rikke Decara
Fiercely Intelligent
The Times
Tue, 2010-01-12
'Otherwise, the group’s tonal characteristics continue. There’s that precious ensemble sense and the clarity and subtlety of textures, shadings and phrasings. Plus a degree of emotional reserve — most apparent in Shostakovich’s troubled Eighth Quartet, stamped by self-quotations, stabbing chords and the composer’s four-note motto. The second section thrust ahead, febrile enough, but without neurotic tantrums; the third kept its skittish waltz spinning lightly; in the final stretch the stabbing chords cut the skin without drawing blood. Yet nothing was cold: the quartet’s final slow fade, so gravely controlled, touched a level of feeling quite impossible with a ham actor’s sobs. Another aspect made this recital stand out: the fiercely intelligent programming. Each chosen piece cast light on its neighbours. By the time we reached Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue, its difficulties dispatched with Olympian ease, we had met its theme in Schnittke’s Third Quartet: music of distorting mirrors and flitting ghosts, including Shostakovich’s motto. Here Balshin’s cello, turned tremulous, sent shivers up the spine; but the triumph belonged to the entire group for colouring Schnittke’s stylistic schizophrenia with such varied colours, such rapid panache. And light relief? That came in the Haydn minuet encore, dispatched with off-hand elegance and wit. In the depths of winter, and travelling like crazy, the Borodin Quartet can still smile.' Geoff Brown
In a Class of Its Own
The Telegraph
Tue, 2010-01-12
The Borodin Quartet could until recently claim an unbroken tradition back to the era of Stalin and Shostakovich. They rehearsed Shostakovich's quartets with the composer himself, sometimes when the ink was barely dry on the page, and they played for Stalin's funeral in 1953. Their original cellist, Valentin Berlinsky, played with the quartet for 62 years. Berlinsky retired in 2007, and now all four players come from a later generation. But cultural memory is a tenacious thing. Sitting in the Wigmore Hall, listening to the Quartet play Shostakovich's First and Eighth quartets, it was impossible to resist an uncanny sense of being taken back to the root of something. You could say this was just the magic effect of a near-mythical reputation, but there is something special in the Borodin Quartet's sound which would persuade even an innocent listener. It's the refusal to exaggerate, and a pearly, immaculate quality in the balance of the four parts. This is no mean feat in music which constantly invites exaggeration. In Shostakovich's Eighth Quartet, written after Shostakovich had witnessed the ruins of Dresden in 1960, moments of sardonic glee are flung against glacial stillness, as if the horror has numbed all feeling. All these, and the grave tragedy of the opening, registered with maximum impact. But it was the clarity and balance of the sound that gave it power, rather than any overt forcefulness. After the interval came a piece which made the Shostakovich quartet seem restrained. The Third Quartet by Alfred Schnittke, the Soviet composer many regarded as Shostakovich's heir, launches off with a little phrase of Renaissance-era limpid purity, chased away by a ghostly echo of Beethoven. A sense of anguished regret steals over these scraps of memory, which dissolve like mist and often lead to panic-stricken outcries. Schnittke's music can often seem masochistic in its intensity, but here the restraint and clarity of the playing made the piece more convincing than any other performance I've heard. Restraint and clarity might be virtues, but they don't take you far without sensuous appeal. This the Borodin quartet offered in abundance, especially in the "Renaissance" moments in the Schnittke, which had a rapt beauty. The only slight disappointment was the performance of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge, which needed more light and shade in its granitic strength. But the Russian pieces were enough to put this concert in a class of its own. Ivan Hewett
Supernatural Radiance
The Independent
Sun, 2010-01-10
The Borodin Quartet brings a lot of history to the table – 60 years, to be precise. Personnel may come and go, the balance of personalities may shift, but the identity remains resolutely intact. Perceptions have changed immeasurably since the unforgettable candelight vigil of the last Shostakovich quartet in their legendary London cycle of the 1980s – none of those players are still with us – but this composer is still their collective signature and they play him with a very particular authority, as if the hotline to his every thought it still very much open. It was shrewd to couple the First and Eighth Quartets, the former’s outward consonance putting a good face on things but fooling no one. Carefree airs, troubled subtext. The Borodins themselves don’t give much away, only the cellist Vladimir Balshin displaying the physicality of rapture and high anxiety. Watching them in this quartet was a little like scrutinising Shostakovich’s own face for tell-tale signs of disquiet. Remember that he came to the string quartet quite late; like Beethoven, they were to be his most intimate confessional. The great Eighth Quartet of 1960 is easier to read. It’s a declaration of independence pure and simple, stamped from the outset with the composer’s own musical monogram (DSCH in German notation) and a succession of telling quotations from his symphonic oeuvre. Many colours were deployed here in traversing the wastelands of his soul but none more telling than the soft, still voice of consolation heard high in the cello in the approach to the glowing postlude. Why high in the cello and not the violin? Because the intensity of a voice at the extreme of its range better expresses just how much is at stake. The final sunset that the Borodins conjoured here was possessed of an almost supernatural radiance. Then it was through a glass darkly to Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge Op.133 by way of the vortex that is Schnittke’s String Quartet No.3. Shostakovich is recalled here – the ubiquitous monogram again – along with shards of other musics spanning several centuries, including the key to Beethoven’s fugue. But not even Schnittke’s other worldly machinations – with sul ponticello effects suggesting a rapidly disintegrating radio signal – could begin to prepare us for that. There is madness in the method of this extraordinary work which cannot and will not decide if it’s a set of variations or a fugue. Only heroic quartets come through it still sounding like they are vaguely in control. And even the Borodins broke a sweat. Edward Seckerson
Superb
MusicalCriticism.com
Mon, 2010-01-11
The most compelling attributes of the Borodin Quartet are their homogeneity as an ensemble and their pure, gimmick-free playing. Showmanship has no part in their performance or, indeed, in any part of their appearance on stage. There is no victory march to and from the stage, their concert attire does not attempt to compete with any fashion statement, and during their playing they focus on sounds rather than on visual representation of what they might feel about the music. The most uplifting aspect of this approach is that it sold out the Wigmore Hall, and that it filled it with a deeply appreciative, fully-focusing audience (of whom very few – or none – were musicians). Whether by accident or design, the excellent programme notes did not include more than a few lines about the ensemble: facts were provided, but we were spared the customary long list of glories, whether past and present. Although perhaps the greatest strength of the Borodin is their admirable ensemble work, I would like to mention their viola player Igor Naidin who delivered some exquisite solos such as the opening section of the second movement of Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 1. In the second movement of Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 8 the take-over from solo viola to solo first violin was so seamless that without a score in hand the change could have gone unnoticed. This kind of unity was remarkable throughout. Another example is the third movement of this quartet: there is a passage, where the first violin plays its theme above a long-held note of the second violin. The two violins here sounded as if one player played both lines which, in turn, sounded like one musical line. In the fourth movement I could not help marvelling the amazing bow control of the upper string players: they gave rock-solid support with their long sustained notes while cellist Vladimir Balshin delivered admirably his high register solo lines. The Borodin players are sparing with their vibratos and they played the last section of the Largo (final movement) with utmost purity without any vibrato at all. It is rare to hear such beauty in the concert hall. As, indeed, it is rare to hear such rendering of Shostakovich’s quartets. Schnittke’s String Quartet No. 3 was also superbly performed. Initially I was surprised by the light, almost humorous approach to the beginning of the agitato second movement, but it facilitated the masterly build-up of the full architecture. All four players of the Borodin have superb technical control of their instruments and they had plenty of opportunities to use their mastery in the Schnittke piece as well as in the final work of their programme, that is, in Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge Op. 133. The audience was very appreciative and I, too, was glad to be there. By Agnes Kory
Raw War Sounds and Quiet Poetry
Jyllandsposten
Sun, 2012-03-25
The planet's oldest string quartet - The Borodin Quartet - came to Copenhagen and let cold war and quiet poetry stream from the strings in Shostakovich's string quartets. Nobody has as the 20th century composer D. Shostakovich written string quartets, which contain both the war's militant tramping boots and inner soft poetry. And nobody interprets the music as intensely and authentically as the four mature Russian gentleman in the Borodin Quartet. With its 67 years of existence the quartet is proclaimed to be the world's oldest. The founders of the quartet had Shostakovich himself standing beside them while learing the string quartets. New members carried on the tradition so the master's spirit still saturates the interpretations. Shostakovich's third quartet gave you goose pimples one moment and you froze inside the next. The way the four players communicated was magical. Here were no big gestures - only concentration and controlled bows, which supply let the music change atmosphere and colours. The fifth string quartet sounded even more intensified. The composer finished the piece under Stalin in 1952 but it was performed first time the year after the dictator's death. Again the players' interaction stood sparkingly clear. Each bowing was timed to a hair and the dark, gloomy sounds provoked an almost physical internal pain. Few will forget the shrieking violin sound which penetrated everything as a hearbreaking cry from here to eternity. Thank you for a powerful afternoon which tore at all emotions.
Street Urchin and Man of Gravity
Kristeligt Dagblad
Tue, 2012-03-27
Dmitri Shostakovich was not easy to classify. Not even Stalin knew where he had him. After Second World War the leaders in Kreml had expected grand patriotic music from Shostakovich's hand, but instead he wrote some subtle pieces like String Quartet no. 3 from 1946, which was on the programme in the Black Diamond together with String Quartet no. 5 from 1952. The first movement alone must have surprised the party tops , who were responsible for the culture in the great realm. This movement is a refined number of variations over a polka, which quite unceremoniously stroll along. Inscrutible Shostakovich dons a mask as street urchin, and though he in the middle movements hits quite different moods, the polka returns in the ending moderato movement, though not quite as unrestrained; the street urchin has matured in the meantime. After the intermission we got the grave Shostakovich. The three movements glide almost imperceptibly into each other. The slow movement is made of a floating beauty, which reminds one of another genius - Mozart. The Borodin Quartet, which according to Guiness' Book of Records is the world's oldes quartet, finished the concert with one of Beethoven's masterpieces "Grosse Fuge"in B Major in 1825. It is a grim piece of 'absolute music' of 15 minutes' duration, composed by a completely deeaf man who was older than his 55 years. This piece suited the Shostakovich quartets unbelievably well. A warm applause gave us more Beethoven - the menuet from Op. 18 no.5. A musical gem from the classicist era which showed that the Borodin Quartet also fully masters this style. Masterly is in fact the word to characterize this quartet, which of course has replaced members over the years, but which now as always stands for the most outstanding chamber music one can hear in this world. The four musicians play as though they are one organism, and at the same time their playing is marked by the natural restraint by which one knows the best musicians: They were the media for Shostakovich and Beethoven, and their playing illuminated the music of these two geniuses in way that one went out into the light March evening with a conception of a transcendental connection between Beethoven and Shostakovich.
Borodin Belongs to the Top
Calgary Herald
Sat, 2013-03-30
Review: Honens Presents: Borodin Quartet and Georgy Tchaidze, piano at the Rozsa Centre at the University of Calgary on Saturday, March 30. "For its debut performance in Calgary, the famed Borodin Quartet was joined by Honens laureate Georgy Tchaidze. On the surface, at least, this was an instance of old Russia meeting new Russia. However, appearance can be deceiving, for although the pedigree of the Borodin quartet stretches back unbroken to the 1940s, the present make up of the quartet includes (unsurprisingly) no original members. The present members of the quartet include youth and experience, with two senior and two junior players, if measured purely by age. All the members, however, are individually impressive in their professional accomplishments and to an astonishing degree continue the musical values and total sound that marked the quartet during the main years of its fame, when it recorded all the quartets of Beethoven and Shostakovich. Compared to young North American quartets, whose playing often tends to sound the way high definition TV looks, the Borodin Quartet presents a very difference tonal pallate and approach to the making of music. Fundamentally, they do not play to the maximum dynamic at every opportunity; rather, they cultivate every possible shading of the sound in the medium soft to very soft range, something that encourages the listener to come to the music, instead of having the music forced down one's throat. This approach, quite refreshing to my ears, eminently suited the Shostakovich Piano Quintet in G minor that occupied the second half of the program. A lyrical work in its overall stance, it received a mature, refined performance of great musical understanding, Shostakovich's unique musical language delivered idiomatically and quite naturally". "The first half of the program was devoted to the middle of the three Razumovsky quartets by Beethoven, a minor-key grey pearl flanked by two more optimistic major-key companions. This is music that shows off what the Borodin quartet does best, the subtle harmonic shifts and textures beautifully rendered, with melody everywhere. This is, I suspect, the result of a group that has lived long with this music and has taken the trouble to penetrate its secrets. This was a deeply satisfying performance of this beautiful, inward music, giving ample testimony to why the Borodin Quartet continues to occupy the top rungs of the string quartet world. It was a pleasure to welcome the group to Calgary; may they come again soon".
Discography

This is only a selection of The Borodin Quartet's recordings.

Shostakovich String Quartets 1, 8 & 14
Dmitri Shostakovich: String Quartets No. 1 op. 49 No. 8 op. 110 No. 14 op. 142 Two Pieces for String Quartet op.36a
Beethoven: String Quartets, Vol. 2
Beethoven: Op. 59 No. 2 & Op. 74 Harp
Beethoven: String Quartets, Vol. 3
Beethoven: Op. 95 No. 11, Op. 131 No. 14 & Op. 133 Grosse Fugue
Beethoven: String Quartets, Vol. 4
Beethoven: Op.127 No. 12 & Op. 132
Beethoven: String Quartets, Vol. 5
Beethoven: Op. 18 No. 1-6
Beethoven: String Quartets, Vol. 6
Beethoven
Beethoven: Quartet Op. 59 No. 1 in F Major, Quartet Op. 59 No, 3 in C Major, Quartet Op. 95 in F Minor & Quartet Op. 132 in A Minor
Beethoven
Beethoven: Quartet Op. 18 No. 4 in C Minor, Quartet Op. 18 No. 5 in A Major & Quartet Op. 130 in B Flat Major, including Grosse Fuge Op. 133
Borodin
Borodin: Quartet No. 1 in A Major & Quartet No. 2 in D Major
Borodin
Borodin: Quartet No. 1 in A Major & Quartet No. 2 in D Major
Brahms
Brahms: Quartet No. 1 in C Minor Op 51/1 & Quartet No. 3 in B Flat Major Op. 67
Brahms
Brahms: Quartet No. 2 in A Minor Op. 51
Debussy & Ravel
Debussy: Quartet in G Minor Ravel: Quartet in F Major
Dvorak
Piano Quintet Op. 5 in A Major Piano Quintet Op. 81 in A Major With Sviatoslav Richter, piano
Haydn
Seven Last Words
Schnittke
Quartet No. 3 Piano Quartet Piano Quintet (with Ludmilla Berlinskaia, piano)
Schubert
Quartet in D Minor Death and the Maiden
Schubert
Quintet in C Major (with Mikhail Milman)
Shostakovich
Complete String Quartets
Vainberg
Piano Quintet Op. 18 (with Moishei Vainberg)
Borodin Quartet 60th Anniversary Disc
Borodin: Quartet No. 2 Tchaikovsky: Andante Cantabil, from String Qt No. 1 Rachmaninov: Romance for String Quartet Schubert: Quartettsatz Webern: Langamer Satz Borodin: Serenata alla Spagnola
Russian Miniatures
Borodin: Notturno from Quartet No. 2 Shebalin: Scherzo from Quartet No. 5 Rachmaninov: Romance from Quartet No. 1 Prokofiev: Visions Fugitives arr. Rudolf Barshai Vainberg: Intermezzo from Quartet No. 7 Tchaikovsky: Album pour Enfants Op. 39 Schnittke: Canon in Memoriam Igor Stravinsky Glazunov: Valse from 5 Novelettes Op. 15 Tchaikovsky: Andante Cantabile from Quartet No. 1 Stravinsky: Three Pieces for String Quartet Borodin: Serenata alla Spagnola Shostakovich: Two Pieces for String Quartet
Tchaikovsky
Quartets Nos 1, 2 & 3, Souvenir de Florence With Yuri Bashmet, viola & Natalia Gutman, cello
Press Service

Photo: Keith Saunders

Photo: Keith Saunders

Photo: Keith Saunders

Photo: Keith Saunders

Representation:
DK, NO, SE, FI

Members:
  • Ruben Aharonian (Violin)
  • Sergei Lomovsky (Violin)
  • Igor Naidin (Viola)
  • Vladimir Balshin (Cello)