ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich String Quartets
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 3, 14 & 15; PianoQuintet
PERFORMER: Juilliard String Quartet;Yefim Bronfman (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 82876790182
Until relatively recently the Juilliard Quartet’s long-standing commitment towards performing 20th-century repertory had not really extended to Shostakovich. So the arrival of this two-disc set featuring performances, recorded between 1999 and 2006 is of unusual interest. Not surprisingly the Juilliards approach the music from a rather different angle to Russian-based ensembles, tending on the whole to emphasise the more modernistic elements of the music, sometimes at the expense of its moments of lyrical contemplation, qualities that are perhaps accentuated here in a rather hard-edged recording. From the deliberately hollow-sounding quavers at the opening to the aggressive return of the Passacaglia theme in the Finale of the Third Quartet, the Juilliards bring an element of almost Bartókian ferocity to the music which works particularly effectively in the second and third movements, but seems a little too detached for the angst-ridden Adagio and the fragile conclusion to the Finale. Equally, whilst the highly aggressive pointillistic notes of the Serenade in the 15th could hardly have been delivered with more searing aggression, there’s a singular lack of mystery in the Nocturne, and the flickering passage-work of the Epilogue, though immaculately played, doesn’t quite suggest a life that is slowly ebbing away.
Whilst I have some reservations about the performances of Quartets Nos 3 and 15, Yefim Bronfman proves a highly responsive partner
in the Piano Quintet, and the emotionally elusive 14th receives a much more probing interpretation,
the seemingly diffuse structure of the Finale mapped out with a sure sense of direction, making the tender conclusion here all the more heartrending. Erik Levi