Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 5; String Quartet No. 15

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: String Quartet No. 5; String Quartet No. 15
PERFORMER: Sorrel Quartet
Five volumes into its complete cycle, the Sorrel Quartet tackle two of Shostakovich’s most demanding quartets with considerable bravura and supported by warmly ambient recordings. The Fifth receives a strongly muscular performance befitting the almost orchestral writing of its most full-blooded passages. But the Sorrels are also sensitive to its more introvert qualities, delivering a beautifully flowing account of the slow movement’s Andantino section and sustaining the feeling of utter despair that overwhelms the final bars. In matters of detail, the players don’t always characterise the musical dialogue with the same degree of imagination as the Emerson Quartet, and they haven’t quite solved the tricky problem of how to maintain and even enhance the sense of struggle that typifies the very long development section in the first movement. With its inexorable procession of death-ridden slow movements, the 15th Quartet makes somewhat different demands on the interpreters. Once again, the Sorrel delivers a fine and often atmospheric performance, the latter quality being particularly hard to achieve without the benefit of a live audience. I was especially impressed by the imaginative way the quartet interprets some of the work’s more radical textural effects, such as the stabbing sounds of the Serenade or the disturbing eruptions in the Epilogue. In the opening Elegy, the players adopt a more flowing tempo than the Borodin Quartet, but while this may seem necessary to preserve musical coherence, it doesn’t quite project the same sense of other-worldiness – an effect that is intensified in the Russian quartet’s performance by their daring use of non-vibrato. Erik Levi