Shostakovich • Prokofiev
This second two-disc instalment in the Pacifica Quartet’s Shostakovich cycle tends, like the first (reviewed in the January 2012 issue), to be sold short by its ‘Soviet Experience’ packaging. The expected rhetoric and terror of Shostakovich’s Soviet armour are here carefully measured within universal frameworks of great sonic beauty, whether fragile or strong: Beethoven, thank goodness, looms larger than Stalin.
There are numerous places in which Shostakovich suddenly turns ferocious: for instance, after the folksy vigour that launches the Second Quartet, following the start of the Third Quartet; and after the almost blinding radiance at the start of the Fourth. In each instance, you’re left wondering, how on earth did that happen? But then sleight of hand is this Quartet’s speciality. Developments unfold seamlessly, but with room to manoeuvre towards gritty climaxes where necessary. The First Quartet is special, too; from the first bars, it sounds introspective and on the brink of tears.
What the wider ‘Soviet experience’ means here is a more extrovert companion-piece, Prokofiev’s String Quartet No. 2, which with its Kabardinian folksongs outwardly toes the official ethnic-republic line of the 1940s but still accumulates plenty of dissonance; the Pacifica Quartet’s sophisticated teamwork is stretched to the limits, but it works beautifully. The close but truthful recording is especially good at capturing all the tonal nuances of violinist Simin Ganatra’s magisterial role in the Second Quartet, while the sound of viola and cello is naturally resonant. A warm welcome to the liner notes from Elizabeth Wilson.