Shostakovich • Beethoven

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Dimitri Shostakovich; Ludwig van Beethoven
LABELS: Avie
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich • Beethoven
WORKS: Shostakovich: String Quartets Nos 7 & 8; Beethoven Razumovsky Quartet, Op. 59 No. 1
PERFORMER: Valentin Berlinsky Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: AV2253

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Seasoned chamber musicians will tell you that it takes many years of intensive rehearsal for a string quartet to attain complete homogeneity in ensemble and a truly distinctive identity. All the more astonishing then is the achievement of the Valentin Berlinsky Quartet. Formed only two years ago, this Zurich-based group, named in honour of the great Russian cellist of the Borodin Quartet, have come of age remarkably quickly. In all three works in their warmly recorded debut disc they offer playing that combines technical perfection with exceptional maturity and musical insight.

Particularly admirable is their performance of the Beethoven F major Rasumovsky Quartet. From the very first bars, where the cellist brings such character and wonderful sense of line to the opening melody, you are compelled to listen to the music afresh. Every interpretative nuance has been carefully honed, yet the playing really does penetrate the multi-faceted character of the outer movements and brings great depth of expression to the Adagio molto.

The two Shostakovich Quartets are equally gripping. I very much like the sense of numbness they bring to the first two movements of the Seventh, making the sudden eruption of anger in the ensuing Fugue all the more terrifying. Their approach to the Eighth is refreshingly different with rather slow tempos adopted for the outer movements and surprisingly fast and malevolent Waltz. Utilising an extremely wide range of timbre, from the ghostly non-vibrato of the opening to the most intense full bodied tone for the few climaxes, they encapsulate the personal tragedy of the work most movingly. It’s a pity however that in the fourth movement, the Quartet leave out  an all important F sharp major chord which resolves previous dissonances onto an unequivocal consonance – a result I understand of the faulty parts from which they were playing.

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Erik Levi