Shostakovich: The String Quartets

Shostakovich: The String Quartets

3.6 3
by Emerson String Quartet
     
 

Ever since Beethoven left us his 16 string quartets, listeners have turned to the genre to find a composer's innermost thoughts. You'd be hard pressed to find feelings further removed from a composer's public persona than those of Shostakovich. His symphonies and operas are like the chapters in his "official" biography -- usually indicating how far in or out of favor… See more details below

Overview

Ever since Beethoven left us his 16 string quartets, listeners have turned to the genre to find a composer's innermost thoughts. You'd be hard pressed to find feelings further removed from a composer's public persona than those of Shostakovich. His symphonies and operas are like the chapters in his "official" biography -- usually indicating how far in or out of favor he was with Stalin -- but the chamber music, frequently written "for the drawer," as he put it, is his personal journal.

It is tempting though ultimately unfair to compare the Emerson String Quartet's interpretations with versions by the Borodin, Shostakovich or Fitzwilliam Quartets. Those ensembles not only got the Stalinist references, they lived the life -- or, in the case of the Fitzwilliam, at least worked directly with the composer. But for these quartets to survive as repertory pieces, rather than journalism, they require both a working knowledge of the composer's intentions and a healthy distance from them.

The Emerson Quartet fits the bill perfectly. Though supportive of new music, they are less interested in advocacy than in creating perspective -- for creating connections between, say, Haydn and Bartók on the musical continuum. In Shostakovich's music, they see Stalin's name carved on every tree, but never lose sight of the forest. Recorded live at the Aspen Music Festival, their performances make deep emotional connections without bleeding into excessive sentimentality, remaining true both to the composer and to their own audiences.

Shostakovich didn't start exploring the quartet form until he was in his 30s, so unlike Beethoven, his 15 quartets change less in style than in content. The Emersons relate the comparative freedom of the early works, cranking the levels of sorrow and despair as the cycle progresses, until the final four quartets, which take on an aura of serenity. Throughout the cycle, the four musicians turn moods on a dime -- from bitter irony to sweet melancholy -- making each piece a world entirely its own.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - James Leonard
If you like your Shostakovich quartets big, brawny and a bit brutal, you’ll like the Emerson Quartet’s Shostakovich quartets. Their Allegros are muscular, with sharp attacks, strong sforzandos and relentless rhythms. Their Passacaglias are powerful, with massive sonorities, monumental structures and inexorable tempos. And their Allegrettos are aggressive, with ironic accents, sarcastic tones and mordent tempos. If you like your Shostakovich quartets smooth, suave and very soulful, you’ll probably like the Emerson Quartet’s Shostakovich quartets. Their Andantes are tuneful, with long lines, supple harmonies and warm colors. Their Adagios are soaring, with arching themes, aching harmonies and brilliant colors. And their Largos are penetrating, with expressive counterpoint, weighty sonorities and burnished colors. If, however, you like your Shostakovich quartets straight, no ice, no chaser, you’ll probably not like the Emerson Quartet’s Shostakovich quartets. The Emerson seems unable to restrain themselves and too often add too much of themselves to the scores. The rawness of the chords in the Fourth Quartet’s opening movement? The Emerson’s idea. The nostalgia of the tone in the Ninth Quartet’s slow movement? The Emerson’s notion. The sentimentality of the closing bars in the Fourteenth Quartet’s finale? The Emerson’s interpolation. For Shostakovich straight, try the Beethoven Quartet. They premiered almost all the quartets and learned their meaning from the composer. For Shostakovich plus, try the Emerson Quartet. DG’s live sound is crisp, clean, deep and detailed with the audience intruding only with energetic applause.
Gramophone - David Gutman
The Americans outpace the classic Borodin recordings in almost every movement, their virtuosity powerfully evident in the many scherzos and toccata-like passages.... The accent may no longer be Russian, but the playing is undeniably committed in its coolness, exposing nerve endings with cruel clarity.... This, surely, is a Shostakovich cycle for the 21st century.

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Product Details

Release Date:
05/16/2006
Label:
Deutsche Grammophon
UPC:
0028947574071
catalogNumber:
000638802
Rank:
21284

Tracks

  1. String Quartet No. 1 in C major, Op. 49  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Christopher Alder  -  Emerson String Quartet
  2. String Quartet No. 2 in A major, Op. 68  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Christopher Alder  -  Emerson String Quartet
  3. String Quartet No. 3 in F major, Op. 73  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Christopher Alder  -  Emerson String Quartet
  4. String Quartet No. 4 in D major, Op. 83  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Christopher Alder  -  Emerson String Quartet
  5. String Quartet No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 92  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Christopher Alder  -  Emerson String Quartet
  6. String Quartet No. 6 in G major, Op. 101  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Christopher Alder  -  Emerson String Quartet
  7. String Quartet No. 7 in F sharp Minor, Op. 108  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Christopher Alder  -  Emerson String Quartet
  8. String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Christopher Alder  -  Emerson String Quartet
  9. String Quartet No. 9 in E flat major, Op. 117  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Christopher Alder  -  Emerson String Quartet
  10. String Quartet No. 10 in A flat, Op. 118  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Christopher Alder  -  Emerson String Quartet
  11. Movements (2) for string quartet  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Christopher Alder  -  Emerson String Quartet
  12. String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 122  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Alison Ames  -  Emerson String Quartet
  13. String Quartet No. 12 in D flat major, Op. 133  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Alison Ames  -  Emerson String Quartet
  14. String Quartet No. 13 in B flat minor, Op. 138  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Alison Ames  -  Emerson String Quartet
  15. String Quartet No. 14 in F sharp major, Op. 142  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Alison Ames  -  Emerson String Quartet
  16. String Quartet No. 15 in E flat Minor, Op. 144  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Alison Ames  -  Emerson String Quartet

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