The Borodin Quartet’s core repertoire has remained consistent throughout the quartet’s various incarnations. In addition to the Shostakovich cycles and the First and Second Quartets of Borodin, the Beethoven quartets have always been prominent in the ensemble’s programmes. No performers have been more persistent or more eloquent advocates of the chamber music of Tchaikovsky, works of a status that has yet to be recognised internationally. And alongside the music of Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Brahms and Dvořák, the Borodin Quartet have played and recorded 20th-century music by Debussy and Ravel, Hindemith, Barber, Schnittke, Schoenberg and Stravinsky.
Perhaps the most outstanding achievement of the Borodin Quartet in the 21st century has been the performance and recording of its first complete Beethoven cycles. All the quartets were played in venues throughout the world during the 60th anniversary seasons, and recorded for Chandos. Neither of the previous long-term quartet formations achieved this feat, although four CDs of Beethoven were recorded for the Virgin label (now EMI) when Mikhail Kopelman was first violin.
The “original” quartet, to use the term most commonly applied to the line-up of Dubinsky, Alexandrov, Shebalin and Berlinsky, made several significant recordings for the Soviet label Melodiya. Among these were cycles of the quartets of Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Shostakovich – though the latter set comprised only Quartets 1-13, as the composer had yet to write his last two works in that form.
After the quartet evolved into its second established formation, with new violinists joining in the 1970s, a new Shostakovich cycle was recorded for Melodiya, this time including Nos 14 and 15. Several years later, this Kopelman-led formation re-recorded several of the Shostakovich quartets in digital sound for Virgin Classics.
When expanding its repetoire to perform chamber music other than quartets, the Borodin has had some remarkable collaborators, many of them long-term associates. As well as giving many performances of Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet with the composer at the keyboard, the quartet played and recorded the same work with Sviatoslav Richter. Richter also joined the quartet members for memorable performances and recordings of Schubert’s Trout Quintet and the piano and string music of Dvořák, Schumann, Brahms and Beethoven. Rostropovich joined the quartet on several occasions, including recordings of Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, and the pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja is a frequent chamber music partner, as is the world’s supreme viola virtuoso, Yuri Bashmet.
Among the music of the classical era, Haydn’s Seven Last Words from the Cross is a celebrated Borodin interpretation, and the “original” quartet made a memorable Melodiya recording of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet with the Russian clarinettist Ivan Mozgovenko.
The passing of the old Soviet system has allowed the Borodin Quartet to bring its renowned interpretations of the central repertoire to the whole world, and to record with a range of labels in the West including Chandos, Onyx, Virgin (EMI) and Teldec.