SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

SHOSTAKOVICH Quartets, Vo. IV: String Quartet No. 10 in A-flat Major, Op. 118; String Quartet No. 12 in D-flat Major, Op. 133; String Quartet No. 14 in F-sharp Major, Op. 142 – Mandelring Quartett – Audite

In Quartet No. 14 Roland Glassl’s viola engages in some severe colloquy with fellows violin and cello in what one commentator calls “an extensive swan song of the world.”

Published on March 9, 2009

SHOSTAKOVICH Quartets, Vo. IV: String Quartet No. 10 in A-flat Major, Op. 118; String Quartet No. 12 in D-flat Major, Op. 133; String Quartet No. 14 in F-sharp Major, Op. 142  – Mandelring Quartett – Audite

SHOSTAKOVICH Quartets, Vol. IV: String Quartet No. 10 in A-flat Major, Op. 118; String Quartet No. 12 in D-flat Major, Op. 133; String Quartet No. 14 in F-sharp Major, Op. 142  – Mandelring Quartett – Audite multichannel SACD 92.529, 75:33 [Distrib. by Albany] ****:

The Mandelring Quartett continues its survey of the complete Shostakovich string quartets with this installment, recorded 23-25 April 2008 in SACD stereo and surround. If we had a hologram image of the Mandelring Quartett in our living room, the illusion of the ensemble’s vivid presence would be complete, so palpable are the four instruments in SACD processing.

The disc opens with the 1964 A-flat Quartet, whose opening Andante reveals that darkly meditative, contrapuntal impulse–derived from the composer’s constant preoccupation with Bach–of his late works. The solo violin (Sebastian Schmidt) extends a concertante riff that recalls the four-note “Shostakovich” motto/anagram of the Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 107. A vehement, rasping Allegretto furioso follows, the first violin shrieking on the G-string over lunatic chords in the lower strings, a virtual warfare. If Bartok parodied Shostakovich in the Concerto for Orchestra, Shostakovich returns the left-hand compliment here, with raucous, Kafka-esque interest. Suddenly, we have a tender Adagio in A Minor, a lament in the style of a passacaglia, the cello (Bernhard Schmidt) leading. An uneasy peace settles over a bleak landscape, and we seem to travel over the nobly fallen dead in Eisenstein’s Alexandre Nevsky. No break in the segue to the final Allegretto, marked by a motoric figure in the viola (Roland Glassl).  Martial impulses alternate with both lyrical points (in the viola) and grotesque, plucked figures in the first violin. Beethoven’s cyclic principle enters, recalling motifs–in savage irony–from each of the prior movements, but the continuity shatters, for the emblems of remembrance no longer retain their emotional significance.

The Quartet No. 12 (1968) proves a radical experiment in dodecaphony, 12-tone technique after Schoenberg, but whose spirit–given the opus number symbolism–belongs to Beethoven’s Great Fugue. In two movements of unequal length–the second thrice as long as the first–Shostakovich explores an introverted, melancholy world, at least in the first movement, a Moderato rife with brief but lyrical affects, especially in dialogue for viola and cello that moves to a tonic D-flat Major. More grotesquerie for the second movement, marked Allegretto, but which plays like a tormented Scherzo in frantic, contrary scales and whirling figures. The repeated figure might be a concession to a motif in Tchaikovsky’s Little Russian Symphony. An Adagio of some length ensues, with muted strings and a chorale melody derived from a 12-tone cello solo entry. We enter a sepulchral world inhabited by dark Schubert and Poe’s Annabel Lee. Pizzicati break the lachrymose mood with strident outbursts, a drunken balalaika band. The fever intensifies, only to find recourse in Beethoven’s cyclic soup once more, with an extended, dolce first movement allusion, followed by the Scherzo in trills and stringent, punishing blows.

The F-sharp Major Quartet No. 14 (1973) achieves an idyllic, even relatively serene character, despite the physical travails Shostakovich suffered at the time. Dedicated to Sergei Shirinski, cellist of the Beethoven Quartet, the music features long ariosi and pungent technical displays for that instrument. In tandem with the viola, the outset of the music moves buoyantly, and the violin helps open up, Allegretto, the scope and emotional optimism of the piece. Cello and first violin engage in machine-gun dialogues of waspish power. Both the viola and the cello enjoy respective cadenzas, slides, and affectionate interplay. The cello part, conceived for Shirinski, is worthy of a Rostropovich. Violin and cello extend the pathos into the Adagio, harmonized and ornamented in a most grave duet which leads to a pizzicato serenade some have likened to the Mahler D Major Symphony, among Shostakovich’s first models for sonic emulation. The first violin then proceeds to the Allegretto finale, a movement that quotes operatic figures from the revised version of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and initiates fierce, buzzing dialogue between violin and cello, perhaps a concession to the spirit of Bartok. Roland Glassl’s viola engages in some severe colloquy with fellows violin and cello in what one commentator calls “an extensive swan song of the world.” The writing becomes weirdly diatonic at moments, the pizzicati beating out a tattoo of somber mortality that fades into an uncertain future.

–Gary Lemco




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