Pacifica Quartet – Dmitri Shostakovich and his Contemporaries: The Soviet Experience Vol. 1-4 (2011-2013) [24bit FLAC]

Pacifica Quartet – Dmitri Shostakovich and his Contemporaries: The Soviet Experience Vol. 1-4 (2011-2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit | Digital Booklet | 7.07 GB
Genre: Classical | Official Digital Download – Source: Cedille

Recognized for its virtuosity, exuberant performance style, and often-daring repertory choices, the Pacifica Quartet has gained international stature as one of the finest chamber ensembles performing today. The Pacifica tours extensively throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia, performing regularly in the world’s major concert halls. Named the quartet-in-residence at Indiana University’s Jacob School of Music in March 2012, the Pacifica also served as quartet-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009-2012) — a position previously held only by the Guarneri String Quartet — and received the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance.

Pacifica Quartet – Shostakovich & Myaskovsky: The Soviet Experience Vol. 1 (2011) [Official Digital Download – 24bit/44.1kHz]
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/44.1 kHz | Digital Booklet | 1.05 GB
Genre: Classical | Official Digital Download – Source: Cedille

This is the first installment in the Pacifica Quartet’s highly anticipated, four-volume CD survey of the complete Shostakovich string quartets: The Soviet Experience: String Quartets by Dmitri Shostakovich and his Contemporaries. The Soviet Experience is the first Shostakovich quartet cycle to include works by other important composers of the Soviet era, adding variety and perspective to the listening experience. This superbly performed series of audiophile recordings, produced and engineered by multiple Grammy Award winner Judith Sherman, will appeal to everyone interested in great Russian music of the 20th century. It’s also a great value: each two-CD installment is priced as a single CD.

Shostakovich’s intense String Quartet No. 5 (1952) introduces many characteristics that would become common in his later quartets. The String Quartet No. 6 (1956) holds surprises beneath its outwardly untroubled themes. The remarkably inventive and compact String Quartet No. 7 (1960) signals a significant stylistic change in the composer’s quartet writing. The deeply personal String Quartet No. 8 (1960) is the best-known quartet in the entire cycle. Nikolai Miaskovsky is the only major Soviet composer who was also a member of the pre-Revolution generation of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. His masterfully written String Quartet No. 13 (1949) demonstrates great ingenuity and craftsmanship within a conventional harmonic language.

The Pacifica Quartet performed the complete Shostakovich cycle to great acclaim in New York and Chicago and at the University of Illinois in Urbana, Ill., during the 2010‚Äì2011 season. The Chicago Tribune said, “The remarkable Pacifica Quartet . . . coaxed the music’s unfathomable sorrows, fleeting joys and macabre humor to the surface as if creating it on the spot.” The New York Times called the Pacifica “enterprising and eloquent” and said its Shostakovich installments were “beautifully and powerfully played.” The Pacifica has been demonstrating its prowess with Shostakovich to concert audiences far and wide by performing the Quartet No. 8 on its tour program. The Denver Post said the ensemble “delivered rawness, power, and sensitivity in an authoritative performance that was profoundly haunting and moving.” Canada’s Globe and Mail said, “The Shostakovich . . . was memorably engaged at every layer and level of its discourse.”

Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich, Nikolay Myaskovsky
Orchestra/Ensemble: Pacifica String Quartet

Reviews:

Cedille certainly produces some of the smartest “concept” albums in the classical music business today, because the concept always seems to work musically. Now, the Pacifica Quartet is one of the best chamber ensembles out there, as its Mendelssohn recordings for this same label attest. Even so, there’s no dearth of fine Shostakovich cycles, starting with the Borodin Quartet and running through the Emerson Quartet. These performances, every bit as fine as those, would be excellent by themselves, but they do risk getting lost in the discographic shuffle. So it was an inspired idea to pair them with other important works in the same medium by Shostakovich’s contemporaries. I’m not sure if this adds up to a “Soviet Experience,” whatever that is, but it does make for some great listening.

The four Shostakovich quartets offered here constitute the heart of the cycle, culminating in the incredibly popular (amazing because musically it’s very sad) Eighth Quartet. In this latter work, the Pacifica Quartet finds a perfect balance between technical polish and raw intensity, nowhere more so than in the ferocious second movement. In Quartet No. 5, with its complex outer movements, the players pace the music with an unerring feeling for tension and relaxation. Even the slender Seventh, Shostakovich’s shortest quartet, has an unusual measure of cogency and expressive depth.

Miaskovsky’s Thirteenth Quartet, his last, is a splendid work: conservative, to be sure, but so beautifully written. The scherzo, marked “Presto fantastico,” displays a vast quantity of color and texture, but then the entire work belies the notion that the quartet medium tends toward the monochrome. The thematic invention is also surprisingly arresting for this composer; some of the symphonies seem bland in comparison. Once again, it would be difficult to imagine a finer performance, and the engineering allows the players’ attractive sonority and well-balanced ensemble work to speak with total naturalness. A great start to a very promising series.

Tracklisting:

CD 01

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

String Quartet No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 92 (31:45)

1 I. Allegro non troppo (11:30)
2 II. Andante (9:27)
3 III. Moderato—Allegretto—Andante (10:47)

String Quartet No. 6 in G major, Op. 101 (25:38)

4 I. Allegretto (7:07)
5 II. Moderato con moto (5:45)
6 III. Lento (5:24)
7 IV. Allegretto (7:18)

TT: (57:35)

CD 02

Dmitri Shostakovich

String Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor, Op. 108 (12:13)

1 I. Allegretto (3:28)
2 II. Andante (3:16)
3 III. Moderato—Allegretto—Andante (5:28)

String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110 (21:56)

4 I. Largo (5:08)
5 II. Allegro molto (2:42)
6 III. Allegretto (4:33)
7 IV. Largo (5:44)
8 V. Largo (3:47)

Nikolai Miaskovsky (1881-1950)

String Quartet No. 13 in A minor, Op. 86 (25:36)

9 I. Moderato (7:57)
10 II. Presto fantastico (5:54)
11 III. Andante con moto e molto cantabile (6:46)
12 IV. Molto vivo, energico (4:51)

TT: (60:05)

Pacifica Quartet – Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich: The Soviet Experience Vol. 2 (2012) [Official Digital Download – 24bit/96kHz]
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Digital Booklet | 1.98 GB
Genre: Classical | Official Digital Download – Source: Cedille

This is the second installment in the Pacifica Quartet’s highly anticipated, four-volume CD survey of the complete Shostakovich string quartets: The Soviet Experience: String Quartets by Dmitri Shostakovich and his Contemporaries. The Soviet Experience is the first Shostakovich quartet cycle to include works by other important composers of the Soviet era, adding variety and perspective to the listening experience.

Volume 2 features five works from the period surrounding World War II: 1938-1949. Included are Shostakovich’s surprisingly sunny and spring-like Quartet No. 1; his often symphonic-sounding Quartet No. 2; the emotionally-powerful Third Quartet, one of Shostakovich’s greatest chamber music masterpieces; his Fourth Quartet, notable especially for its “Jewish”-themed finale; and Prokofiev’s folk-influenced Quartet No. 2.

The Soviet Experience: Volume I received universal praise on both sides of the Atlantic and was included on the best classical albums of 2011 lists of The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The New Yorker, San Jose Mercury News, Newark Star-Ledger, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Pacifica Quartet performed the complete Shostakovich cycle to great acclaim in New York and Chicago and at the University of Illinois in Urbana, during the 2010-2011 season. The Chicago Tribune said, “The remarkable Pacifica Quartet… coaxed the music’s unfathomable sorrows, fleeting joys and macabre humor to the surface as if creating it on the spot.” The New York Times called the Pacifica “enterprising and eloquent” and said its Shostakovich installments were “beautifully and powerfully played.” In 2011-12, the Pacifica plays the Shostakovich quartet cycle in London’s Wigmore Hall.

Composer: Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich
Orchestra/Ensemble: Pacifica String Quartet

Reviews:

Sooner or later, most contributors to this journal are bound to receive letters from disgruntled readers and the occasional colleague complaining about what they perceive to be an unfairly negative review, or even an unfairly positive one. But I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever been chided by a colleague as I was by Peter J. Rabinowitz in Fanfare 35:4 for submitting an enthusiastic review that wasn’t enthusiastic enough. In a second-opinion follow-up to my review of Volume 1 of the Pacifica Quartet’s new Shostakovich cycle, Rabinowitz took exception to my “Goldilocks” analogy in which I stated that the Pacifica’s performances struck me as “j-u-s-t right.”

Although I never got to review the Pacifica’s complete Mendelssohn quartets, they showed up on a couple of Want Lists, and in a number of reviews of Mendelssohn quartet recordings by other ensembles, I’ve repeatedly singled out the Pacifica’s version as equaling, if not surpassing, the Emerson’s set. So, as a rejoinder to Rabinowitz, let me just say for the record that I agree with him that the Pacifica’s Shostakovich is not “middle of the road,” and by “j-u-s-t right” I didn’t mean to imply that the ensemble’s performances straddled the fence or clung to the median strip running down the center of the highway. There is no better string quartet on the scene today than the Pacifica. In terms of technical precision and keenness of musical insight, the Pacifica is the true inheritor of the Emerson’s crown and, in warmth of tone and emotional responsiveness, I often find the Pacifica superior to the Emerson.

That said, there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that once the Pacifica has completed its Shostakovich cycle it will be among the top two or three to have, those others being the aforesaid Emerson and what some consider to be the definitive Fitzwilliam. With this release of Volume 2, the Pacifica has now crossed the ocean more than halfway. Eight of the 15 quartets have now been committed to disc—Nos. 5-8 in Volume 1, and now Nos. 1-4 here. And as in the previous volume, the MO is to include another roughly contemporaneous string quartet by another Russian composer. In Volume 1 it was Miaskovsky; here it’s Prokofiev.

Shostakovich’s quartets span a period of 36 years; the first was written in 1938, the last in 1974. The four quartets heard here are the composer’s earliest, though in the overall chronology of his works, you could say that he got a relatively late start in the quartet-writing business. He’d already written his first five symphonies by 1937, before his first quartet was even a twinkle in his ear.

As he is quoted in Shostakovich: A Life Remembered , it was the composer’s intention to write 24 quartets following a cyclic progression of major and minor keys. Unlike Bach, however, who proceeded through the keys by semitone, or Chopin, who in his 24 preludes proceeded via the Circle of Fifths, Shostakovich adopted a unique scheme of his own. He proceeds—at least in the 15 quartets he managed to write—more or less by submediants (by sixths). The first six quartets, all in major, follow the pattern. C, A, F, D, B?, G—A being a sixth above C, F being a sixth above A, and so on. But then something goes askew with the plan. No. 7 should have been in E?, but instead Shostakovich throws a monkeywrench into the works by giving us a quartet in F?-Minor. No. 8 returns to the pattern with C Minor, which would have been the submediant of No. 7 if No. 7 had followed the plan and been in E?. Another deviation comes with No. 10, which is also in the “wrong” key from what it should be, but the pattern resumes once again with No. 11.

In a fascinating analysis of the quartets (quartets.de/index.html), one Ian Strachan explains that “the insertion of F?-Minor and the effective rotation of E? sharp major [ sic ] and C minor were done so that quartet number nine would be written in E?-Major and quartet number 16 in B Major. By doing so Shostakovich would ensure that his initials (DSCH) were used as the keys in quartets whose number are a perfect square (D Major: quartet number four or 2 squared; S, in the German notation or E?-Major in the English: quartet number nine or 3 squared; C Major: quartet number one or 1 squared; and H or B Major in the English notation as quartet number 16, or 4 squared). So it seems that Shostakovich, a tonal composer who delighted in keeping detailed numerical records of football scores, indulged in numerical as well as musical ciphers.”

In a way, I suppose, this tends to reinforce something I’ve said before about Shostakovich’s quartets, not that they’re all alike, but that there’s a prevailing sense of continuity in the musical discourse that makes them seem like one cogent and coherent conversation from beginning to end, which, of course, could be advanced as an argument for listening to them in order. Still, the above bit of clever mathematical manipulation presumes the existence of a 16th which was never written, as well as the continuation of the pattern all the way through to a nonexistent final 24th quartet. You’ve got to love stuff like this; it can be so earnest in its pursuit of the Delphic. Or, as the oracle once said, “Pi are square, cake are round.”

Nonetheless, I would urge you to visit the website because it goes way beyond the tortured math I’ve touched on here. It also provides a detailed history, description, and analysis of every single quartet.

The First Quartet, for the most part, is a bouncy, one might almost say joyful, thing. The coruscating harmonies, rhythmic ostinatos, and pervasive gloom we often associate with Shostakovich’s music are saved for the later quartets.

The austerity and menace begin to creep in as early as the Second Quartet. The Soviet victory over Hitler’s army was near in the early fall of 1944 when Shostakovich composed the work, practically in the same breath as his famous E-Minor Piano Trio, but he wasn’t in a celebratory mood. There’s a Russianness or East European Jewishness to the melodic and harmonic material, which often sounds like it’s derived from folk songs and klezmer dances soured and bent out of shape by Shostakovich’s parodying techniques.

Superficially, the Third Quartet (1946) bears some resemblance to the First Quartet in its opening swagger and jaunty Haydnesque character, but it’s a cheerfulness colored by disappointment and disillusion. The piece was written on the eve that ushered in the dark days of the Zhdanov denouncement and the targeting of Soviet artists and intellectuals. Shostakovich’s state of mind is reflected in the fact that the Third Quartet is the only work he wrote during this year.

The Fourth Quartet (1949) ran into resistance for other reasons and of a different sort. Characterized as another of his “Jewish” works—though not Jewish, Shostakovich was drawn to Jewish musical and cultural themes throughout his life—the Fourth Quartet appeared at exactly the time that the Cold War was heating up, anti-Semitism was once again on the rise (if it had ever abated), and Stalin was gleefully engaged in another round of persecution and purges. The horror is made manifest in the leering danse macabre of the concluding Allegretto, one of the standout movements in the entire quartet cycle.

For Prokofiev the string quartet plays a far less central role in his output; he wrote only two, the first in 1930, and the second, included in the present set, in 1941. Writing string quartets was not a particularly self-motivated or self-fulfilling effort for him, and this, his second go at the medium, was apparently not even his idea. Having been sent to a Soviet outpost presumed safe from Germany’s invading forces, Prokofiev was encouraged to write a string quartet based on the Kabardino-Balkar folk themes common to the North Caucasus region to which he and other artists had been evacuated. He seems to have warmed to the idea, producing a fine example of abstract music inspired by authentic folk elements.

In every single movement of Shostakovich’s quartets and in the Prokofiev, the Pacifica Quartet penetrates to the very heart and soul of the music. What stands out—matters of technical precision and ensemble blending and balance are givens—is the way in which the players probe for and reveal amazing details even in passages that, superficially, may seem to present relatively flat surfaces unlikely to yield much in the way of dimensionality, such as the Adagio of the Third Quartet. But under inspection of the Pacifica’s microscope, the music displays a topography filled with hidden peaks and valleys. It’s this intellectual curiosity to explore, wedded to largesse of emotional expressivity that makes these performances special.

I hope Rabinowitz takes this to be the fervently enthusiastic recommendation intended.
Tracklisting:

CD 01

01. Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 1 in C major, Op. 49 – I. Moderato [0:04:16.12]
02. II. Moderato [0:04:44.48]
03. III. Allegro molto [0:02:12.46]
04. IV. Allegro [0:03:16.47]
05. Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 2 in A major, Op. 68 – I. Overture: Moderato con moto [0:08:22.46]
06. II. Recitative and Romance: Adagio [0:10:28.00]
07. III. Waltz: Allegro [0:05:23.57]
08. IV. Theme with Variations: Adagio [0:10:48.60]
09. Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 4 in D major, Op. 83 – I. Allegretto [0:04:10.60]
10. II. Andantino [0:06:43.42]
11. III. Allegretto [0:04:17.54]
12. IV. Allegretto [0:10:00.74]

CD 02

01. Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 3 in F major, Op. 73 – I. Allegretto [0:06:57.44]
02. II. Moderato con moto [0:05:00.34]
03. III. Allegro non troppo [0:03:59.23]
04. IV. Adagio [0:06:14.18]
05. V. Moderato [0:08:52.09]
06. Prokofiev: String Quartet No. 2 in F major, Op. 92 [0:06:25.00]
07. I. Allegro sostenuto [0:07:27.14] 08. II. Adagio [0:08:12.47]

Pacifica String Quartet – Dmitri Shostakovich, Mieczyslaw Weinberg: The Soviet Experience Vol 3 (2013) [Official Digital Download – 24bit/96kHz]
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96kHz | Digital Booklet | 2.26 GB
Genre: Classical | Official Digital Download – Source: Cedillerecords

This is the third instalment in the Pacifica Quartet’s highly anticipated, and already highly acclaimed four-volume CD survey of the complete Shostakovich string quartets: The Soviet Experience: String Quartets by Dmitri Shostakovich and his Contemporaries.

It is the first Shostakovich quartet cycle to include works by other important composers of the Soviet era, adding variety and perspective to the listening experience.

This superbly performed series of audiophile recordings, produced and engineered by multiple Grammy Award winner Judith Sherman, will appeal to everyone interested in great Russian music of the 20th century.

Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich, Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Orchestra/Ensemble: Pacifica String Quartet
Reviews:

This is the third volume in Cedille’s ongoing series of Shostakovich quartets, enriched by additional works by the composer’s Soviet colleagues, and like the two previous releases it is a triumph. Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Sixth quartet was composed in 1946 and promptly blacklisted by the Soviet authorities. It’s a big work (32 minutes) in six well-contrasted movements, centering around a very beautiful Adagio. Its kinship with Shostakovich is clear, although it should be kept in mind that at this time Shostakovich’s own quartet cycle was in its initial stages.

As with the previous volumes, the Pacifica Quartet’s performances are as good as any. From the limpid purity of the Ninth quartet’s opening Moderato con moto, to the snarling Tenth quartet’s Allegretto furioso (mean but never crude), this is great quartet playing. The Eleventh quartet’s seven brief movements flow into one another with impressive cogency and point, while in the Twelfth quartet, a work that flirts with atonality despite being nominally in D-flat major, the Pacifica never loses its sense of direction and feeling for the musical line (especially critical in the long concluding Allegretto).

Also in keeping with previous releases, the sonics are marvelously lifelike, well-balanced, and warm. It’s funny how, with all of the fuss and bother about SACD, surround-sound, and whatnot, enterprising small labels like Cedille still make recordings in good, old-fashioned stereo that wipe the floor with outfits that expect new formats to supply a quality that ultimately remains the exclusive province of a top-notch engineer with a great pair of ears.
Tracklisting:

CD 01

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

String Quartet No. 9 in E-flat major, Op. 117 (27:24)

1. I. Moderato con moto (4:47)
2. II. Adagio (5:06)
3. III. Allegretto (3:59)
4. IV. Adagio (3:42)
5. V. Allegro (9:48)

String Quartet No. 10 in A-flat major, Op. 119 (24:52)

6. I. Andante (4:34)
7. II. Allegretto furioso (4:07)
8. III. Adagio (6:26)
9. IV. Allegretto (9:41)

String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 122 (17:47)

10. I. Introduction-Andantino (2:28)
11. II. Scherzo (2:41)
12. III. Adagio (6:26)
13. IV. Etude-Allegro (1:18)
14. V. Humoresque-Allegro (1:04)
15. VI. Elegy-Adagio (5:05)
16. VII. Finale-Moderato (3:41)

TT: (70:20)

CD 02

Dmitri Shostakovich

String Quartet No. 12 in D-flat major, Op. 133 (26:11)

1. I. Moderato (6:44)
2. II. Allegretto (19:24)

Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996)

String Quartet No. 6 in E minor, op. 35 (32:03)

3. I. Allegro semplice (8:25)
4. II. Presto agitato (2:30)
5. III. Allegro con fuoco (1:41)
6. IV. Adagio (7:19)
7. V. Moderato comodo (5:15)
8. VI. Andante maestoso (6:43)

TT: (58:25)

Pacifica String Quartet – Dmitri Shostakovich, Alfred Schnittke : The Soviet Experience Vol 4 (2013) [Official Digital Download – 24bit/96kHz]
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96kHz | Digital Booklet | 1.78 GB
Genre: Classical | Official Digital Download – Source: Cedillerecords

This is the final installment in the Pacifica Quartet’s highly anticipated, and already highly acclaimed four-volume CD survey of the complete Shostakovich string quartets: The Soviet Experience: String Quartets by Dmitri Shostakovich and his Contemporaries.

The Soviet Experience Volume IV features Shostakovich’s String Quartets Nos. 13-15 from the 1970s. The Thirteenth Quartet’s one and only movement featuring extensive solo viola uses extended techniques uncommon for Russian composers at that time. The Fourteenth, composed in 1973 is a surprisingly upbeat work of 3 movements prominently featuring the cello. The Fifteenth is a meditation on mortality and one of Shostakovich’s longest quartets. These three quartets are paired with Schnittke’s allusive homage, String Quartet No. 3, written in 1983. It’s a work full of quotation including a 12-tone row transposed from a theme by Shostakovich, whose influence was felt throughout Schnittke’s career.

Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich, Alfred Schnittke
Orchestra/Ensemble: Pacifica String Quartet
Reviews:

With this fourth volume, the Pacifica Quartet brings its survey of Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets to a close. As with the each of the earlier two-disc sets, a bonus is offered in the form of a string quartet by one of Shostakovich’s contemporaries, this time the String Quartet No. 3 by Alfred Schnittke. Previous discmates were Myaskovsky, Prokofiev, and Weinberg.

Between two hospitalizations in 1970, Shostakovich managed to complete his 13th Quartet in August of that year. Alone among the composer’s 15 quartets, this Bb-Minor work is in a single movement and exhibits a palindromic form—ABCBA. Like the 12th Quartet before it, this one, too, is based on a tone row encompassing all 12 semitones of the chromatic scale. Shostakovich’s endgame, however, is to confirm tonality rather than to deny it.

Much of the composer’s music seems to dwell in dark, brooding, baleful places—that’s nothing new—but this 13th Quartet arguably surpasses in mood and atmosphere even the spectral chill and ghoulish humor of his earlier works. It unmasks the face of death, and it’s a visage so hideous to behold that gazing upon it will freeze your eyeballs in their sockets. I can only describe the Pacifica Quartet’s reading of the score by saying it achieves a sub-zero degree of cold that can penetrate and shatter your bones. Never have I heard such a graphic representation in music of the daemon Thanatos, not by the Fitzwilliam, Emerson, St. Petersburg, Brodsky, or Alexander String Quartets. This is scary stuff.

Shostakovich’s next quartet, No. 14 in F# Minor, reverts back to a key more convenient for string players, three sharps, allowing for the use of some open strings, and being a lot easier to finger than the five flats of the previous quartet. The composer began work on the piece in 1972, but took time off for a trip to Ireland and England, where he visited his friend, Benjamin Britten, in Aldeburgh. That delayed completion of the Quartet until the following spring, after Shostakovich had returned to Moscow.

The score is dedicated to Sergei Shirinsky, the original cellist of the Beethoven Quartet, and contains a cryptogram in the third movement on “Seryozha,” a familiar or affectionate form of address for Sergei. However, the pitches—D#-E-D-E-G-A—make no sense unless transliterated into their Cyrillic equivalents. The “E,” for example, represents the Cyrillic letter “ë,” which I’m given to understand is pronounced “yo,” thereby denoting the second syllable in “Seryozha.”

Compared to the 13th Quartet, No. 14 is positively playful. Still, being by Shostakovich, the music does have its bleak and menacing moments, but also one passage in particular in the third movement, beginning at 4:49 in this performance that’s of utterly aching beauty. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the score, but if my ears don’t deceive me, it sounds like the viola playing in double stops for a number of bars, accompanied by gentle pizzicatos in the violins. If I’m right, and it is the viola, then Masumi Per Rostad’s playing at this point is simply breathtaking; which is not to take anything away from Simin Ganatra, Sibbi Bernhardsson, and Brandon Vamos, whose playing throughout this entire series has been nothing but phenomenal.

Shostakovich’s last quartet, No. 15, is clearly a valedictory work in much the same way that Beethoven’s final quartets are. Completed in May 1974, a year and three months before his death, Shostakovich chose for this score what Stephen Harris calls “the mysterious but traditionally morbid key of Eb Minor.” “Morbid” may be one word for it, but with a key signature of six flats most string players would call it by a word or words not to be spoken in polite company. Had Shostakovich lived to write a 16th quartet, one can only wonder if he’d have upped the ante to seven flats with a score in Ab Minor or Cb Major.

In six movements, the 15th Quartet is the composer’s longest, playing for some 36 minutes in the Pacifica’s performance. Moreover, each of the six movements is in the same Eb-Minor key and in one degree or another of Adagio . As quoted by Elizabeth Wilson in Shostakovich: A Life Remembered , the composer himself gave this performance instruction: “Play the first movement so that flies drop dead in mid-air and the audience leaves the hall out of sheer boredom.”

The music obviously speaks of facing death, but it’s not macabre and malignant like the 13th Quartet; rather, it’s mostly melancholy, sorrowful, and resigned, with the occasional defiant outburst. If I singled out violist Rostad for his playing in the 14th Quartet, I have to note first violinist Simin Ganatra’s superb execution of the third-movement cadenza in the 15th Quartet.

Shostakovich’s string quartets have been extremely fortunate from the very beginning to have received quite a few outstanding recordings. A number of them are cited above, but there are earlier ones by the Beethoven and Borodin Quartets that have historical significance, as well as more recent ones by the Sorrel and Mandelring Quartets (the last two of which I’ve not heard). But of those I have heard—and that would include all the others named in this review—I believe I’m prepared to say that this cycle by the Pacifica Quartet is the top contender. Whether you already have one or more Shostakovich quartet cycles in your collection, or you have none, the Pacifica’s is a must-have for anyone of the conviction that these are the most profound musical utterances in the realm of the string quartet since Beethoven.

Disc two closes with a performance of Alfred Schnittke’s String Quartet No. 3, composed in 1983. Seth Brodsky, assistant professor of music and the humanities at the University of Chicago (no connection to the Brodsky Quartet), notes Schnittke’s “anti-classical” or “polystylistic” approach, which “depends on shattering classical norms of balance, purity, and wholeness for a multiplicity of styles.” “Schnittke’s Third Quartet,” Brodsky continues, “shatters all three within its first minute. We hear only broken pieces from other times and other works—first from Orlando de Lassus’s Stabat Mater (later 1500s), then from Beethoven‘s Grosse Fuge (1825), and finally from Shostakovich‘s famous ‘musical signature,’ ‘D-S-C-H,’ first used in his Fifth String Quartet of 1952. Schnittke takes these three musical modules, from disparate traditions traversing half a millennium, and puts them directly after one another, only to have the whole thread snap and fall to the ground.”

As works by Schnittke go—at least among those I can claim to have heard—this Third Quartet is fairly accessible, an impression borne out by its relative popularity. Not counting the present version by the Pacifica Quartet, the work has received six recordings, one of which, with the Borodin Quartet on a Virgin Classics CD, to my surprise, I found on the shelf and dusted off for comparison. Once again, for playing of arresting graphic detail, the Pacifica wins hands-down.

This is a Shostakovich cycle for the ages.
Tracklisting:

CD 01

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat minor, Op. 138

1 Adagio—Doppio movimento—Tempo primo (19:15)

String Quartet No. 14 in F-sharp major, Op. 142 (25:45)

2 I. Allegretto (8:41)
3 II. Adagio (8:43)
4 III. Allegretto (8:18)

TT: (45:12)

CD 02

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH

String Quartet No. 15 in E-flat minor, Op. 144 (36:10)

1 I. Elegy: Adagio (11:39)
2 II. Serenade: Adagio (5:49)
3 III. Intermezzo: Adagio (1:44)
4 IV. Nocturne: Adagio (4:27)
5 V. Funeral March: Adagio molto (5:37)
6 VI. Epilogue: Adagio (6:52)

ALFRED SCHNITTKE (1919-1996)

String Quartet No. 3 (22:54)

7 I. Andante (6:14)
8 II. Agitato (8:18)
9 III. Pesante (8:20)

TT: (59:16)

Download:

mqs.link_PacificaQuartetDmitriShstakvichandhisCntempraries.part1.rar
mqs.link_PacificaQuartetDmitriShstakvichandhisCntempraries.part2.rar
mqs.link_PacificaQuartetDmitriShstakvichandhisCntempraries.part3.rar
mqs.link_PacificaQuartetDmitriShstakvichandhisCntempraries.part4.rar
mqs.link_PacificaQuartetDmitriShstakvichandhisCntempraries.part5.rar
mqs.link_PacificaQuartetDmitriShstakvichandhisCntempraries.part6.rar
mqs.link_PacificaQuartetDmitriShstakvichandhisCntempraries.part7.rar
mqs.link_PacificaQuartetDmitriShstakvichandhisCntempraries.part8.rar