Gramophone | 09/2010
For some years, my touchstone for the Tchaikovsky quartets has been the 1993 Borodin Quartet recordings (Teldec, 1/94-nla), eloquent accounts that reach deeply into the music. The Klenke Quartet immediately invite comparison, with an identical programme (even the order on the two CDs is the same) and, with one or two exceptions, timings for the individual movements within a few seconds of each other. Annegret Klenke and her colleagues have achieved a remarkable unity of tone and style, giving their interpretations a powerful identity, with sharply defined contrasts between the different episodes and movements.
The harrowing funeral march that forms the slow movement of Op 30 highlights the differences between the Borodin and Klenke approaches. The Klenkes arrest one's attention immediately; the opening chordal motif is relentlessy sustained with little or no vibrato; against this the impassioned, vibrant violin phrases stand out dramatically. For the movement`s consolatory middle section, the quartet find a remarkable sweet, silky sound and the icy final chords encapsulate perfectly the movement's bleak emotional landscape. The Borodin Quartet don't attempt such extreme tonal contrasts but their commitment comes over in details of phrasing and emphasis. I get the impression that long familiarity has given each player the ability to find an ideal way of presenting every individual statement. So it's the Borodin for profundity, the Klenkes for a vived sense of drama that's just as important to the music.
Tchaikovsky's string writing often exploits the strong virtuoso tradition that already existed in mid-19th-century Russia and the brilliant passages in the finales of the first two quartets are given here in a particularly exciting, bold manner.
However, I found the middle movements of the Second Quartet less satisfying than the rest of the programme—the Scherzo in places sounding rather sleepy, its Trio surprisingly bland, and in the Adagio some of the playing seems too heavily emphatic. But such small disappointments are amply compensated by an enchanting account of the Sextet; the soaring melodies of the first two movements played with radiant tone, and the Scherzo and finale given with exceptional energy and verve.