R Schumann: String Quartet No. 3, Op. 41; Caroline Shaw: Three Essays; Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 9 in E flat major, Op. 117
Calidore String Quartet
Signum Classics SIGCD650 71:44 mins
As a concept, I’m not entirely sure this album works. The pieces, we are told, are ‘a manifestation of the human yearning to communicate with one another.’ Well how much music isn’t? But no matter: it works quite well enough as a recorded concert.
The Schumann comes across beautifully, with plenty of tender, intimate inner dialogue and a fine feeling for Schumann’s left-field attitude to conventional form. Maybe there could be more subversive humour, but it’s still refreshing to hear this marvellous, still under-appreciated music treated with such understanding and obvious affection.
Like many contemporary pieces, Caroline Shaw’s Three Essays comes with a detailed programme, but it’s perfectly possible to enjoy it just as abstract music: playful, heartfelt, exuberant and always surprising enough to hold the attention. The playing is as strong and persuasive here as in the Schumann.
As for the Shostakovich, the overall conception is very impressive, each of the linked movements growing out of the previous one with a powerful sense of inevitability. The control of the two/three-in-a-bar rhythmic games in the finale is particularly well brought off. Where it’s slightly weaker – strange, given the disc’s declared intentions – is in that urgent, impassioned directness that characterises the finest Shostakovich quartet performances. Expressive and shapely as they are, the solo lines don’t sound as though they’re burning, aching to confide in you.
This is quality quartet playing, sympathetically recorded, but in the Shostakovich it just falls a couple of inches short of excellent.