CD review: Shostakovich’s String Quartets 1, 8 & 14

First published in The Guardian on 9 April, 2015

Borodin Quartet (Decca)

There is real heritage here: formed in Moscow in 1945, the original Borodins learned Shostakovich’s quartets direct from the man himself. Marking the group’s 70th with a new complete cycle — of which this is the first instalment — today’s Borodins 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 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 danger of the gaudy romp that this work can become. Some might find it all 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. For me, though, their sobriety is hugely dignified.