Bart—k; Stravinsky; Gubaidulina; Shostakovich

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bartók; Stravinsky; Gubaidulina; Shostakovich
LABELS: Arte Nova
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: String Quartets from the 20th Century
WORKS: String Quartet No. 4; Three Pieces for String Quartet; String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 8
PERFORMER: Rubin Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 77069 2
This young all-female quartet (with personnel from Paris, Cologne and Amsterdam) presents a thoughtfully balanced programme of three established 20th-century classics and an equally masterly and characteristically intense study in textures from Sofia Gubaidulina. The Rubin Quartet’s playing is exceptionally clean and rhythmically lively, with exemplary unanimity of attack. Sometimes the expressive effect is a bit lightweight. Given the high quality of the competing versions (Fine Arts, Juilliard, Emerson, Tokyo, Zehetmair et al) I felt these players’ Bartók Fourth Quartet could have benefited from more gravitas (and the recording, indeed, from a bit more bass), but their account of the finale, especially, is extremely exciting. Likewise their approach to Shostakovich’s Eighth presents that most dolorously personal of quartet confessions as almost classically poised, its flood of feeling kept under tight rein. But this is all to the good, when we compare some of the self-indulgently lachrymose interpretations this much-recorded work has received; certainly there is no lack of commitment to the score as both human document and display of utterly focused technique. Stravinsky’s teasing, quasi-surreal miniatures make an excellent foil to the bigger pieces, as cool and crisp as Gubaidulina’s flickering textural furnace is hot. The DeutschlandRadio recording is, unsurprisingly, very good indeed. Calum MacDonald