Shostakovich • Walton: String Quartets
Albion Quartet (Signum Classics)
Shostakovich • Walton
Walton: String Quartet; Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 3
Signum Classics SIGCD727 60:48 mins
These two very different string quartets were completed more or less simultaneously in 1946 and the booklet notes to this coupling suggest they are equally imbued with the relieved yet ominous post-war atmosphere of the time. Fair enough for the sardonic, savage and numbed extremes of Shostakovich’s five movements, which strongly suggest a wartime scenario. But Walton thought of his work more personally as a compositional restart after five years diverted into film and wartime propaganda music – and he cannot have been happy when the critics dismissed the A minor Quartet merely as ‘the mixture as before’. Well, yes and no. Many of the melodic turns and nervous rhythms may be familiar from his pre-Second World War output, but there is an intensity and refinement of craftsmanship – redolent, perhaps of the influence of Ravel – that is new here.
Founded in 2016 and led by Tamsin Waley-Cohen, the Albion Quartet pace, phrase, point and colour Walton’s volatile textures and agile rhythms with all the sensitivity and energy they require. Yet they are equally successful in the fiercer, more unpredictable contrasts in the Shostakovich, all the way from the deadpan perkiness of the opening to the searing outburst in the middle of the finale that sounds like some hysterical lament for the fallen. The Signum recording, made in Saffron Hall, Saffron Waldon, has tremendous presence and dynamic range, but needs to be heard at a fairly high level if some of the tiny first violin staccato squeaks in Shostakovich’s second movement are to be really audible.