What does it take to be married to a member of a globetrotting string quartet? The Moscow-based Borodin Quartet – only two of whom are married – draw a useful historical analogy. Their spouses must be like the wives of the surviving Decembrist revolutionaries who escaped the Tsar's gallows in 1825: when the men were banished for life to Siberia, their wives either went with them, or waited decades at home.
So says violist Igor Naidin (unmarried), for whom membership of this élite ensemble was always the summit of his ambition. The original Borodins were the quartet of choice for Shostakovich and Britten: while cultural life withered under Stalin, they were among select keepers of the flame, and have remained so ever since. Naidin, who was born in 1969, has been playing in the Borodin tradition since he was 15 years old. "For me, they were always the ideal quartet," he says. "Real heroes."
The challenge, he says, is to pass on the quartet's musical DNA, "though Valentin Berlinsky, the original cellist, used to describe it as the quartet 'virus' – an intense and irresistible desire to play only quartet music. Whatever is going on in your life, it does not interfere with this obsession. All you want to do is play."
What does he regard as their USP? "We know we have one, but we can never put it into words." Would he recognise the Borodin's sound blind? "Ninety-nine per cent of the time, I would recognise it instantly. Each player has his own voice, and his own unique instrument. And then there is the unique voice of the whole group. Beautiful, very powerful, but not over loud, and not remotely harsh." Seductive? "No, tender. But now I'm part of it, I can't describe it further. I have internalised it. I don't have the joy of listening any more."
Listening to their superb Beethoven cycle on Chandos, I'm struck by the incisive freshness and warmth of their playing. Audiences on their national tour, for which they will play Haydn, Shostakovich, Miaskovsky and Beethoven, can make up their own minds.
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