WORKS: String Quartet No. 1,; String Quartet No. 5; String Quartet No. 12
PERFORMER: Debussy Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: AR 68534
The third volume of the Sorrel Quartet’s Shostakovich cycle offers the same thoughtful view of the music as was demonstrated in its earlier releases. In the Ninth Quartet, for example, the powerfully driven finale provides a particularly striking release of tension after the suppressed and fragile emotions of the earlier movements. Likewise, the volcanic outburst of anger in the second movement of the Eighth has a more devastating impact as a result of the numbing non-vibrato colouring of much of the preceding Largo. A more controversial point is the very slow tempo adopted for the fourth movement. To my mind, the conception here is far too static, undermining both the defiant protesting nature of the quotation
of the song ‘Worn out by the weight of slavery’ and the anguished reminiscence of Katerina’s aria from the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.
Although the Sorrel’s new viola-player Sarah-Jane Bradley makes a strong impression in the prominent solos of Quartet No. 13, the performance as a whole doesn’t achieve the same convincing integration of the contrasting tempi in this chilling one-movement work as manifested in the recent highly acclaimed Emerson Quartet recording on DG.
Similar structural problems are evident in the Debussy Quartet’s second movement of the Twelfth in negotiating the difficult changes of mood, tempo, colour and articulation in the central slow section. In general, this highly talented French ensemble focuses its attention on achieving a blended tonal colouring sometimes at the expense of sharply etched phrasing and articulation. Such an approach works marvellously well in the opening movement of the First Quartet where the intense vibrato of the Emerson Quartet sounds over-fussy. At the same time, the greater subtlety of nuance and muscular power of the Emerson Quartet makes their performance of the Fifth far more compelling. Erik Levi