Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 7; String Quartet No. 8

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 7; String Quartet No. 8
PERFORMER: Hagen Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 477 6146
As with their earlier disc of

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Shostakovich quartets, the Hagen

Quartet take nothing for granted

in this repertory. Every movement

seems to have been put under

the interpretative microscope,

bringing very different emotional

and textural perspectives to these

works than some of the approaches

that are familiar, particularly from

Russian chamber groups.

The results are bound to divide

opinion. For example, in opting

to play the opening passage of the

Eighth Quartet with the minimum

of vibrato the Hagens may sound

far more disengaged from music

that conveys a mood of utter despair

than the Borodin or St Petersburg

Quartets. Yet the long-term impact

of holding back both here and in the

equivalent movement of the Seventh

(where the final reluctant resolution

to a major chord is almost inaudible)

actually serves to make the outbursts

of anger in the second movement

of the Eighth and the fugato of the

Seventh sound all the more powerful.

There are many other striking

details: the unexpectedly slow

glissandos in the second movement

of No. 3 and the heavy thud of the

repeated three-note patterns in the

fourth movement of No. 8 spring to

mind. As always, balance, intonation

and ensemble are impeccable, and

the Hagens demonstrate a masterly

control of large-scale structure,

nowhere more impressively than

in the rise and fall of tension in the

massive Finale of the Third. Although the highly charged St Petersburg

Quartet on Hyperion still remains my

first choice for modern recordings of

these works, this warmly engineered

release offers a highly stimulating and

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provocative alternative. Erik Levi.