Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 14 in F sharp; String Quartet No. 15 in E flat minor

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
WORKS: String Quartet No. 14 in F sharp; String Quartet No. 15 in E flat minor
PERFORMER: Glinka Quartet, Beethoven Quartet
Like his symphonies, Shostakovich’s chamber music grapples with big issues and encompasses a vast range of emotional preoccupations. Mortality remains the major theme of the two late quartets, though images of loss also feature prominently in the mournful fugue of the Piano Quintet and the harrowing recitatives of the Second Quartet. Yet not all the music is ridden with gloom – a haunting youthful innocence pervades the First Quartet, and the Scherzo from the Piano Quintet is couched in Shostakovich’s finest satirical vein.


All the performances emanate from the archives of Czech Radio which, judging by releases that have appeared so far, must contain a veritable treasure trove of Shostakovich recordings. Of the two discs, I much prefer the one coupling the two late quartets. The playing of the Glinka Quartet in the Fourteenth is quite outstanding by any standards, but even this is eclipsed by the revelatory interpretation of the Fifteenth from the legendary Beethoven Quartet, the ensemble that was most closely associated with the composer. On the other disc, the Talich Quartet veers dangerously towards sentimentality in the opening movement of the First Quartet, and in the rather rushed account of the Piano Quintet, Miroslav Langer is somewhat cavalier with Shostakovich’s notation. Both in these works and in the Second Quartet, which here receives a stirring if technically uneven performance, the Borodin Quartet’s recordings on EMI or Virgin are much to be preferred. Erik Levi