Beauty of Tone Color
The first thing that struck me on hearing the Klenke members’ playing of the First Quartet was their range and beauty of tone color. They play the opening senza vibrato, and in the multiple-stopped chords of the closing they really allow the open strings to “ring”; when playing in modo ordinario their sound is quite lovely, first violinist Klenke in particular commanding a tone of pure silver, but they can really dig in where necessary. The approach throughout the piece is straightforward but affectionate, as exemplified in the simple but expressive phrasing of the second movement’s folk song. The only unusual touches are a più mosso that is quite a bit greater than poco at m. 47 of the first movement, and the lack of a diminuendo the last time through the Scherzo. (Evidently the sources conflict on this; the Dover score notes that this instruction appears in a parts edition checked by the composer in 1889, implying that it was absent from the first edition.) The folksy single quartet movement in B-Major (1865), which follows on disc 1, receives an equally committed performance.
The Second Quartet is, as suggested above, a different kettle of fish. The striking dissonance with which it begins, the solo violin flourish that ends the introduction—a mini-cadenza, really—and the quasi-orchestral tutti that closes the exposition all call forth playing of great intensity here. The uneven-meter Scherzo, taken slightly more deliberately than usual, and the slow third movement, a most characteristically Tchaikovskian lament, are done with equal deftness. Likewise, the Klenke is fully responsive to the great seriousness of the Third Quartet’s massive first movement—more than 17 minutes—and its third-movement funeral march, both in the unusual key of E Minor, while making the greatest contrast of the slight second-movement scherzo.
With recorded sound that is detailed and full, characterized by a broad stereo image and ideal hall ambience, this could easily stand with the later Borodin Quartet set on Teldec as the finest recording of the complete Tchaikovsky quartets that I know. Incidentally, Berlin Classics has upgraded its packaging; the discs are housed in a cardboard foldout album just a bit wider than a traditional jewel case, with soft-plastic CD holders and a nice booklet including detailed notes in German and English.
Richard A. Kaplan,