Shostakovich: String Quartets Nos 4, 8 & 11

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Signum Classics
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 4, 8 & 11
PERFORMER: Carducci String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 0418

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The Carducci Quartet is the latest in a long line of British chamber ensembles to successfully champion Shostakovich’s music on disc. Their warmly engineered release of three of the Russian master’s quartets is undoubtedly a fine achievement, boasting excellent ensemble, musical insight and sensitive attention to detail. In performances of such distinction it may be invidious to single out one player for particular praise, but cellist Emma Denton not only provides a solid foundation for the group as a whole, but is particularly eloquent in solo passages such as the poignant quotation from the final act of the opera Lady Macbeth that appears in the fourth movement of the Eighth Quartet.

The bar, though, has been set extraordinarily high as far as recordings of this repertory are concerned. Among the plethora of relatively recent releases, a double disc set from the Jerusalem Quartet on Harmonia Mundi, which includes the same three works, provides a good point of comparison. Technically there is very little to choose between the two groups. The difference lies in the greater degree of nuance and emotional intensity which the Israeli quartet brings to the music. A good case in point is the Klezmer-inflected Finale of the Fourth Quartet, a movement which in the Jerusalem’s interpretation builds up inexorably to a devastating climax, thus making the final reflective bars, with their ambiguous hovering between major and minor tonalities, all the more affecting. Vivid as they are, the Carduccis don’t quite take you on the same journey.

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Erik Levi