Magazine article Gramophone

Shostakovich: Complete String Quartets

Magazine article Gramophone

Shostakovich: Complete String Quartets

Article excerpt

Shostakovich Complete String Quartets Brodsky Quartet Chandos (R) (F) CHAN10917 (6h 37' * DDD) Recorded live at the Muziekgebouw, Amsterdam, March 4-6, 2016

With this live set, captured last March in Amsterdam's Muziekgebouw (not to be confused with the venerable Concertgebouw), the Brodsky becomes the first Western string quartet to have released more than one Shostakovich cycle on disc. Famous for pioneering crossover projects and with a propensity for performing from a standing position, the ensemble was unusual in championing the Russian-Soviet master well before his expedient ideological realignment, in some cases even before the general availability of printed material. Viola player Paul Cassidy, who provides a reflective essay for the booklet, remembers how the teenage musicians would tape performances off-air, writing out their own parts by listening to the recording over and over again. The Eleventh was one of the first pieces they played publicly in 1972. Growing up as the later quartets were being written and premiered, they were too young to enjoy a direct artistic relationship with the composer, so it meant a great deal to them that, on one memorable occasion in Bologna, they were able to perform the Ninth in the presence of his widow, Irina. Complete Shostakovich cycles have been a central feature of the quartet's schedule ever since, latterly presented in concentrated weekend bursts.

The sound of the group and its attitude to these scores has not remained static. Two Brodsky stalwarts have departed since the old Teldec recording. Something else has changed, too, in that the competition is much fiercer today. Set against the fabulously integrated sonority of the Borodin Quartet and the heartfelt homegrown advocacy of the Fitzwilliain, the Brodsky's original studio-made series felt distinctly 'contemporary'. That impression (only partly attributable to the drier sound of what was the first such sequence to be digitally encoded throughout) was also the product of a certain detachment and self-consciousness of approach. Nuances were applied sparingly and knowingly, as if from outside the music, to define a mood. The sharp rhythmic clarity commanded respect rather than love. Today we've had the turbocharged perfectionism of the Emerson Quartet, the Gallic wit and finesse of the Quatuor Danel, the contextual programming of the Pacifica Quartet--'adding variety and perspective to the listening experience'--and so many more.

Decades of concert-giving have encouraged a freer, more robust Brodsky style that admits extra grit and pressurises the busy, quasi-symphonic rhetoric of Shostakovich's more conventional scores. …

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