WORKS: String Quartet No. 2 in A; String Quartet No. 3 in F
PERFORMER: St Petersburg String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67153
With the Yggdrasil, Sorrel and Debussy Quartets having already released the first installments in their projected complete Shostakovich Quartet cycles, one could be forgiven for thinking that the market simply can’t accommodate yet another contender. But the St Petersburg String Quartet have carved out such a strong reputation both in the United States and the UK, that it would be pure folly to reject their performances simply on the grounds of over-saturation.
Maddeningly, each quartet has chosen to begin their survey with different couplings, the only point of direct comparison being the Third which is featured here and on the excellent Yggdrasil version on Bis. On technical grounds, it would be difficult to fault either quartet, but the St Petersburg adopt a more whimsical approach to the first movement, inserting caesuras between each thematic group that give the music a greater degree of space. Both quartets deliver blisteringly aggressive accounts of the ensuing two movements, though the St Petersburg are more effective in conveying the clockwork numbness of the middle section in the Moderato con moto. There are greater divergences between the two ensembles in the fourth movement, the Yggdrasil project the opening unison passages with more gravitas and at a slower tempo, but are less effective in negotiating the accelerando to the heart-wrenching climax than their Russian counterparts.
In the Second Quartet, the benchmark comparison with the Borodin Quartet on Teldec
invariably favours the St Petersburg. Once again, it’s a question of nuance rather than technique, the St Petersburg attacking the insinuating crescendos in the Overture with greater venom and conveying more effectively the emotional instability of the Waltz.
On these grounds alone, this new release deserves an emphatic recommendation making one impatient for their next Shostakovich disc. Erik Levi