Record of the day: Dmitri Shostakovich, "The String Quartets"

Record of the day: Dmitri Shostakovich, “The String Quartets”

Dmitri Shostakovich
The String Quartets (5 Cd DG 4757407)

Compared to the symphonic production (developed throughout the entire span of his artistic activity) the elaboration of the work
Shostakovich's quartet began in a later period; when the composer published the First Quartet it was 1938 and the Fifth Symphony had already had its first performance.
However, the prolific Russian author did not hesitate to make up for lost time, writing fifteen string quartets
they constitute, together with those of Bartók, Janácek, Berg and Ligeti, one of the milestones of the modern chamber repertoire.

Extremely rich in melodic ideas and supported by masterly writing from every point of view, these works have unfortunately been little considered by a certain criticism tending to exclude composers outside the post-war avant-garde (the same fate befell Britten's work, not surprisingly great friend of Shostakovich) but with the passing of the years and the growing interest on the part of many performers, the quartets have finally obtained their rightful place in the history of music and their importance is no longer questioned.

Alternating caustic and grotesque moments with poignant pages steeped in melancholy, Shostakovich explores every corner of quartet possibilities; in his scores the musicians must be soloists of absolute value and chamber musicians perfectly in sync with their colleagues. Shostakovich's writing, unlike Bartók's, does not attempt formal or technical daring; the use of classical forms is welcomed here, but in each of these pages the author's personality stands out dazzlingly; he bends these forms to his will naturally, as he had done previously with symphonic architectures.

The alternation of different expressive characters comes to an abrupt end with the last four quartets, uniformly linked by a climate of constant desperation exacerbated by the use of more dissonant harmonies and sometimes twelve-tone series (always used freely).
It is difficult to imagine a better performance than the one proposed here by the Emerson Quartet, which, recording in front of the audience of the Aspen Music Festival, confirms itself as one of the best ensembles in the world for technical-performance quality and interpretative perfection.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year”, courtesy of the author and the publisher.