Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 6; String Quartet No. 8

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 6; String Quartet No. 8
PERFORMER: St Petersburg String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67154
The virtues of the St Petersburg Quartet’s Shostakovich are as evident here as in the first volume of their complete cycle. Once again it’s not so much the technical excellence of their full-blooded playing that really strikes home as their ability to project the subtext that lies behind the notes. This is particularly the case in the elusive Sixth Quartet which seems a much less genial composition in the St Petersburg’s interpretation. The Fourth Quartet is also handled very effectively. In the opening Allegretto, for example, the St Petersburg is careful not to overplay the full-blooded textures, and the movement as a whole gains considerably from a great sensitivity to inner detail. Similar qualities can be perceived in the ensuing Andantino, where the subtle timing and use of rubato in the first violin’s long-breathed melody serve to enhance the overwhelming feeling of poignancy. Pacing is of the essence in the massive finale, and here the St Petersburg yields nothing to its rivals in terms of sustaining the intensity of feeling to the very end.

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In the Eighth Quartet, the Borodin Quartet’s 1962 recording for Decca still captures an immediacy of impact that remains unsurpassed even in its later versions. However, the St Petersburg is careful not to provide merely an imitation of the Borodin’s approach, and its performance is full of revelatory nuances. Two examples particularly spring to mind – the enormously effective use of non-vibrato in the opening, and the rather hesitant phrasing in the central Allegretto which gives the movement an even more highly strung character than I had previously imagined. Erik Levi