Leningrad String Quartets Northern Flowers

Leningrad String Quartets
Gennady Banschikov (b.1943)
String Quartet (1982)
Luzian Prigozhin (1926-1994)
String Quartet No. 2 (1983)
Benyamin Basner (1925-1996)
String Quartet No. 4 (1968)
String Quartet No. 5 (1975)
Leningrad Philharmonic Quartet
Taneyev Quartet
rec. 1970-84, St. Petersburg, Russia 
Northern Flowers NF/PMA99154 [66]

Without showy publicity or fanfare Northern Flowers/Alto have, over the years, built a very substantial catalogue of recordings. These originate from the St Petersburg Musical Archive. This entrant is made up of Russian quartets from the 1970s and 1980s. It is soundly recorded and the liner-notes are more than competent, though I would have appreciated more context on Banschikov. The playing, carried by two quartets, is delivered cleanly and with unfaltering conviction.

Banschikov‘s single-movement, twenty-minute Quartet is a mightily serious, tight-lipped and angst-riven affair. Clearly “bread and circuses” are out for Banschikov who, it seems, is magnetically drawn to the grim and the nervy. The liner-note mentions a comic element but I doubt we are starved of evidence. While shards of beauty float upwards and coalesce in the last five minutes, which are impressive, you need to ready yourselves, seatbelts buckled, for a grave and ultimately tragic journey.

Prigozhin was born in Tashkent but made much of his life from 1946 in Leningrad. His catalogue includes three operas and three symphonies. The Second Quartet dates from the year after the Banschikov piece. It is in three movements, across thirteen minutes, given here in a single track.  Prigozhin presents as a passionate being, yet with music that possesses the tautness and acidity of the late twentieth century. At the close he creates a unique world that seems to melt and bleed with effects that verge on the atonal. Emotionally there is more light and air in the Prigozhin than in the Banschikov.

The two quartets by Benyamin Basner are the elder pieces here and are played by the Taneyev Quartet – long famed for their Myaskovsky and Taneyev cycles on CD and LP. Basner’s Fourth Quartet starts with a soulful and fearful Adagio that yearns and creeps. Its little Allegro briefly asserts a boneyard humour. The final Allegro appassionato is the lengthiest movement at nearly eight minutes. A tightly intense statement, it is superbly laid out for the four instruments and is expressed in terms laden with the fantastic and the visionary. The Fifth Quartet, from six years later, is in four movements with each of the two pairs (Con motoAgitato and Adagio espressivoAllegretto) allocated a single track. Sombre and serious writing is cross-currented with stabbing figures that scream out. There is an underpinning of urgency and desperation. Things unwind but there is no escaping what becomes a static web. In the third and fourth movements a Bergian melody stretches to free itself.  A simpler and more directly spoken tune rises, seethes and cavorts until it resolves bleakly into a whispered pizzicato on plucked strings and col legno.

There is an earlier Northern Flowers volume of ‘Leningrad Quartets’ (review). Both Basner and Prigozhin feature on that earlier disc.

Rob Barnett

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music