Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 11

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 11
PERFORMER: Sorrel Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9769
Although the second volume of the Sorrel Quartet’s complete Shostakovich cycle duplicates some of the works already featured in the highly rated St Petersburg Quartet recordings for Hyperion, there’s little doubt that the current catalogue can easily accommodate the different approaches adopted by the two ensembles. Some months ago I waxed lyrical about the St Petersburg’s Fourth Quartet, and a reappraisal of its performance confirmed my initial impressions. But the Sorrel Quartet is by no means outclassed by its rivals in the first three movements, where in places it achieves a more subtle conception of phrasing and a greater clarity of ensemble, especially in the ghostly scherzo. Less convincing, however, is the Sorrel’s interpretation of the finale. Shostakovich’s marking of Allegretto may seem ambiguous, but by adopting an extremely deliberate tempo and heavy articulation, the St Petersburg manages to effect a greater degree of anguish in the Jewish-inflected melodies than the rather fleet-footed and ultimately cooler Sorrel.

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Ironically, elsewhere in the disc the Sorrel generally opts for much broader speeds than its Russian colleagues, and this lends extra weight and intensity to the grinding ostinato patterns of the second movement and the funereal tread of the passacaglia in the Third, not to mention the wonderfully controlled range of timbres in the Eleventh. More controversial is the rather dour conception of the opening movement of the Third, which seems bereft of the irony and malicious wit that cut through the St Petersburg’s performance. While this might seem a miscalculation, one could equally well argue that the Sorrel has a more emotionally unified view of the piece, and that it succeeds in drawing greater connections between the first movement and the finale than is normally the case. Erik Levi