Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 3 Op. 73; String Quartet No. 7 Op. 108l; String Quartet No. 8 Op. 110

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: String Quartet No. 3 Op. 73; String Quartet No. 7 Op. 108l; String Quartet No. 8 Op. 110
PERFORMER: Yggdrasil Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CD-913
Coming to the end of a four-year tenure at the University of Aberdeen, the Swedish Yggdrasil Quartet has already secured outstanding plaudits for its recordings of the string quartets by Jón Leifs and Berwald. Embarking upon a complete Shostakovich cycle, however, is a much more formidable proposition, especially given that the current field boasts some exceptionally fine performances from the likes of the Borodin, Éder, Fitzwilliam and Shostakovich Quartets. Yet on the evidence of this first disc, the Yggdrasil is more than ready for the challenge.

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These performances manifest three very distinctive virtues. First, the players exploit the widest possible range of dynamics and articulations in order to project the harrowing message of the music. Second, the ensemble manages to effect a marvellously transparent texture even in the densest passagework of such movements as the fugue of the Seventh Quartet or the eerie chromatically ascending and descending violin quavers of the third movement of the Eighth. Last but by no means least, the Yggdrasil enjoys the finest recorded sound which matches clarity with requisite warmth.

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In matters of interpretation, one may argue that the Borodin and the Shostakovich Quartets sometimes dig deeper beneath the anguish, bitterness and loneliness of the war-scarred Third Quartet. I wonder, for example, whether a slightly more deliberate tempo for the second movement might have communicated better the sheer hollowness of feeling in the middle section, and perhaps the opening of the finale isn’t quite as furtive as that of the Russian quartets. But elsewhere, the Yggdrasil is very impressive, providing gripping and musically enlightening playing. Erik Levi