Shostakovich: String Quartets

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Oehms
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: String Quartets
PERFORMER: Rasumowsky Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: OC 562 (5 discs)
Yet another cycle of Shostakovich’s String Quartets may seem like unnecessary overkill, especially during the centenary year. But this beautifully recorded set not only carries Maxim Shostakovich’s enthusiastic imprimatur, but also merits serious attention for its faithful adherence to the most recent scores which are currently being published in the new complete edition by the Moscow-based DSCH Publishers. Listeners with attentive ears will certainly notice some significant differences in notation to the familiar versions. Scrupulous adoption of Shostakovich’s metronome marks has a particularly profound impact on many slow movements such as the second Largo of the Eighth and the Largo of the Third, neither of which sounds quite as heavy and doomladen as before.

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There are surprises too in the very fast and distinctly unnerving delivery of the Waltz in the Second and the frenzied outburst at the beginning of the Finale of the Ninth. On the other hand, in the 15th the desire not to linger unduly over certain passages and to maintain a sense of momentum at all costs can rob the music of some of its timeless qualities.

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Still, it’s not hard to concur with Maxim that the performances of the Second, Sixth, 11th and 13th are exceptionally satisfying and match the best in the current catalogue. Elsewhere there are movements such as the opening Allegro non troppo of the Fifth and the Moderato of the 12th that somehow don’t quite get inside the character of the music in the same gripping manner as the Borodin or St Petersburg Quartets. The imminent reissue of the Borodin Quartet’s 1980s cycle on the Melodiya label makes it a very tempting alternative to the present set. But if you want a modern recording at all costs, I’d still recommend the St Petersburg Quartet’s performances on Hyperion over any of these formidable rivals. Erik Levi