Shostakovich: String Quartets No. 3 in F; String Quartet No. 15 in E flat minor

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Globe
WORKS: String Quartets No. 3 in F; String Quartet No. 15 in E flat minor
PERFORMER: Rubio String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: GLO 5171
The Shostakovich Quartets must be regarded as among the most harrowing musical documents of the 20th century – a chronicle of despair and suffering composed in the environment of a brutal and oppressive political system. Given this background, one is tempted to argue that only those who bore witness to the trials and tribulations of life in the Soviet Union have the capacity to dig beneath the surface of Shostakovich’s often enigmatic music, thus explaining to a certain extent why Russian quartets, in particular the Borodin (on BMG Melodiya), have reigned supreme in such repertoire for so many years. At the same time, there have been enlightening if somewhat different interpretative approaches from Western chamber groups, such as the Fitzwilliam and Hagen Quartets.

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Of the two ensembles featured here, the Éder Quartet provides by far the more involving musical experience. Indeed, in the emotionally unsettling opening movement of the Tenth, I prefer the Éder’s more flowing tempo to the Borodin’s rather studied repose, and the Éder Quartet is just as compelling as its Russian rival in conveying the melancholy regret that underpins the Eleventh. In the opening sections of the Thirteenth and the Fifteenth, the Borodin’s daring lack of vibrato seems more apposite to the music’s feeling of disembodiment, although the Éder projects the sudden and violent outbursts with no less ferocity.

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At budget price these two final instalments in the Éder Quartet’s cycle are certainly well worth investigating. In contrast, the Rubio Quartet seems rather workmanlike. Although this Flemish group provides technically secure playing, its overall sound lacks the warmth, range, intensity and resonance of the Borodin Quartet, qualities which are absolutely essential to hold one’s attention through the six mournful Adagios that make up the death-obsessed Fifteenth. Erik Levi