Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 9

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Harminia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich String Quartets
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 4; String Quartet No. 9
PERFORMER: Jerusalem Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901865
With the Shostakovich centenary year now looming we are more than likely to experience a deluge of new recordings of his works. Yet it’s doubtful whether many will be more impressive than this warmly engineered release which surely confirms the Jerusalem Quartet as one of the most exciting young chamber ensembles playing today.

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As with the St Petersburg Quartet’s recent Hyperion version of the First Quartet, the Jerusalems clearly view this work as being a much weightier affair than is normal. They invest both the first and second movements with an almost heart-breaking sense of melancholy and introversion, and even the Finale sounds brutal and frenzied rather than, as the composer once suggested, full of joys of spring.

One might expect performers who have been schooled in the Russian-Jewish tradition of playing to make a particularly powerful case for the Fourth Quartet, and indeed both the slow movement and the Finale are delivered with great passion and intensity. Perhaps the third movement could have sounded a little more furtive and sinister, as it does so effectively in the St Petersburg Quartet version.

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The same caveat could be made for their interpretation of the strange fourth movement of the Ninth, but few quartets rival the Jerusalems in squeezing the last ounce of adrenalin out of the Finale of this work – a performance that is guaranteed to lift you out of your seat. Erik Levi