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The State Borodin Quartet (Orchestra)

The Borodin Quartet is a string quartet that was founded in 1945 in the former Soviet Union. It is one of the world's longest lasting string quartets, marking its 60th anniversary season in 2005.

The quartet was one of the Soviet Union's best known in the West during the Cold War era, through concert performances in the United States and Europe and through distribution of their recordings.

The quartet had a close relationship with composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who personally consulted with them on each of his quartets. They also performed with the pianist Sviatoslav Richter on many occasions. They have recorded all of Shostakovich's string quartets as well as all of Beethoven's quartets. Their many recordings include works by a wide range of composers on the Melodiya, Teldec, Virgin Records, Chandos Records labels.

The original Borodin quartet's sound was characterised by an almost symphonic volume and a highly developed ability to phrase whilst maintaining group cohesion. Although it has seen many changes in personnel over its life span, all members of the quartet have been graduates of the Moscow Conservatory.

The quartet was formed as the Moscow Conservatoire Quartet with Mstislav Rostropovich on cello, Rostislav Dubinsky and Nina Barshai on first and second violins and Rudolf Barshai on viola, all members of a class taken by Mikhail Terian, the viola player of the Comitas Quartet. Originally Mstislav Rostropovich was the cellist but he withdrew after a few weeks in favour of Berlinsky.

The quartet first met Dmitri Shostakovich in 1946 and became an interpreter of his compositions. In due course they became known for their performances of all the quartets in the Shostakovich quartet canon (eventually numbering 15 quartets) at concert halls around the world.

As one of the most revered groups during the Communist era, the quartet performed at the funerals of both Joseph Stalin and Sergei Prokofiev, who both died on the same day in 1953.

In 1955 the quartet was renamed after Alexander Borodin, one of the founders of Russian chamber music.

In the Soviet era their concert engagements and repertoire were directed by the state concert organisation, Gosconcert on the basis of maximum revenue. This was irksome to the performers and to Western concert organisers.

After 20 years with the same line-up, difficult times followed in the 1970s: Dubinsky defected to the West, and the second violinist, Yaroslav Alexandrov, retired due to ill-health. Having recruited replacements, Berlinsky insisted that the ensemble spend two years out of public attention until the Borodin sound had been fully recreated.

In his 1989 book, Stormy Applause, Dubinsky suggested disharmony, power struggles and betrayal to the authorities by Berlinsky, who admitted being a Communist Party member. Berlinsky, for his part, dismissed the book as being “full of half truths”. Whatever the truth of such stories, Berlinsky's record of serving for 62 years in one of the world's most renowned string quartets was a singular achievement, possibly unique in the history of the genre.


State Borodin Quartet - Prokofiev - String Quartet No 2
About This Video
Sergei Prokofiev
String Quartet No 2 in F major, Op 92

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