Shostakovich: String Quartets Nos 6, 8 & 11

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 6, 8 & 11
PERFORMER: Jerusalem Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901953
It’s tempting to regard Shostakovich’s Sixth Quartet as a lyrical interlude between the rugged symphonic intensity of the Fifth and the more desolate landscapes of the Seventh. Not so, the Jerusalem Quartet. In their revelatory and outstandingly recorded performance of this underrated work, darker resonances are never far from the surface. Even the seemingly innocent opening, with its throbbing repeated notes in the viola followed by a deceptively happy-go-lucky G major theme, sounds uneasy, and one isn’t in the least bit surprised when the Jerusalems ratchet up the emotional temperature in an unusually vehement delivery of the first movement’s development section – a tactic that is repeated in the Finale with even more devastating impact. For the second and third movements, the Jerusalems find different though no less disturbing implications in the music – a sense of fear and fragility in the middle section of the Moderato con moto and a numbed weariness in the Passacaglia Lento.

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In contrast to the studied refinement of the Hagen Quartet on DG, the Jerusalem’s Eighth Quartet is very much heart on the sleeve. Some gestures may not be to everyone’s taste, for example the lack of vibrato in the work’s opening and closing statements of the DSCH motif and the mannered way in which the first violin and cello shape the recitative-like passages in the first movement. Also I wonder whether the engineers have left too much of a gap between the second and third movements. But the sheer conviction of the playing both here and in the Eleventh sweeps away any doubts, and the disc as a whole deserves an urgent recommendation for the wonderful performance of the Sixth. Erik Levi