Beethoven • Shostakovich – String Quartets
The second release in the Valentin Berlinsky’s survey of Beethoven and Shostakovich Quartets maintains the high standards of performance that were evident in their debut recording. The players strongly empathise with the frequent moments of darkness and despair in Shostakovich’s music, delivering extremely moving interpretations of the Third Quartet’s passacaglia movement and the unbearably bleak closing bars of the work. Yet the quartet are not helped by the recorded sound, which lacks focus in the bass register. Moreover, in the opening movement there needs to be a more obvious dynamic contrast between piano and pianissimo markings – a feature that is so imaginatively projected in the Hagen Quartet’s performance. (There is also an inaccuracy in the repeat of the exposition in this movement at 2:01, where the second violin continues to play repeated Cs instead of descending to a dissonant B.)
The performance of the Beethoven has many virtues, not least its purposeful drive in the outer movements and a dynamically urgent approach to the Allegretto. But the Valentin Berlinskys miss the tight rhythmic control of the Takács Quartet that gives the music a greater sense of space, making more of the extraordinary change of tonality from E minor to F major in the opening bars of the first movement and lending the ensuing busy semiquaver figurations extra clarity. Likewise, the Takács adopt a broader tempo for the Molto Adagio and squeeze added emotional intensity from the music. In comparison, the Valentin Berlinskys sound a little plain.