WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: St Petersburg String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: DE 3247
Sandwiched between two Prokofiev quartets in contrasting styles, young Georgian Zurab Nadarejshvili’s prizewinning first specimen in the genre begs a question with its opening bars. Isn’t the instant spiritual high of its native chanting too easy after the always dynamic poignancy of the elusive Andante which ends Prokofiev’s First Quartet? As it turns out, the Arvo Pärt-like overlap of descending strings is only a prelude to a movement which offers a moment of crisis. So does the finale, and there the rich variety of sounds around a lament for the dead, sensitively honed by the St Petersburg players, show a master’s hand. A short central Allegro vivace gives a brief rhythmic kick to this ‘quartet of sorrowful songs’.
Even so, one can hardly fail to notice Prokofiev’s superior sleight of hand in the abstract, occasionally hard-to-read No. 1 and the essentially extrovert Second, which takes the gutty, tangily inflected music of the Kabardinia region where the composer found himself in 1941 and soon exposes (especially in the first movement development) harmonic fault-lines which, like so much music of that time, can be interpreted either as the storm of war or the stress of the Stalin years. Whatever the case, Prokofiev takes no easy Soviet-ethnic option. Although these players find less ethnic zest in the folksongs than the heart-on-sleeve Britten Quartet, they do move wistfully with the underlying sadness both here and in an unusually mobile account of the disc’s high noon, the First’s Andante. David Nice