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Soviet Experience 3
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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.
The Pacifica s previous instalment, The Soviet Experience Volume II, received an extraordinary reception from critics. The playing is nothing short of phenomenal, bringing new dimensions of interpretative depth and a subtle fusion of intensity and clarity. . . . When the series is complete, it looks set to be the one to own (The Telegraph).
One of the distinguishing features of the Pacifica's series of Shostakovich string quartets is that each of the two-disc sets has contained a work by another Russian composer that offers stylistic contrast and broadens our knowledge of 20th-century Russian chamber music. The first volume of The Soviet Experience (CDR 90000 127), with Shostakovich's Quartets Nos 5-8, included Myaskovsky's No 13 of 1949; the second (CDR 90000 130) coupled Shostakovich s Nos 1-4 with Prokofiev's No 2 of 1941. This third volume covers the Shostakovich quartets Nos 9-12 and brings with it the Sixth Quartet that Mieczyslaw (known in Russian as Moysey) Weinberg wrote in 1946 and, after being proscribed during the Zhdanov restrictions of 1948, seems not to have had a public performance until 2007. While it must have been hard for any Soviet composer to escape the influence of Shostakovich, Weinberg for the most part manages to do so. There are certain similarities of accent between the two musical languages, but Weinberg s way of voicing his ideas testifies to individuality. There are conflicts in the music at times coupled with clouds of brooding, but its blacklisting in 1948 seems as unduly harsh as it was in other cases. Having been gripped by the Pacifica's live performance of the complete Shostakovich canon, I am glad to have these permanent records of interpretations that strike at the heart of the music, defining the distinctiveness of each quartet and conveying the substance with subtlety, polish and a finely judged spectrum of expression. ***** --Telegraph, 07/06/13
The Pacifica does justice to what is arguably Shostakovich's finest single quartet, and is equally inside the idiom of Weinberg's Sixth Quartet(1946) chosen to round off the programme. --IRR, July/ Aug'13
This is Vol. 3 in Cedille's The Soviet Experience series. The previous two discs have received welcoming reviews elsewhere, with adjectives like electrifying and definitive . The latest instalment, the bulk of which is taken up with Shostakovich's Quartets Nos. 9-12, is well up to standard with intensely concentrated playing, first-class ensemble, a strikingly wide range of dynamic and a remarkably consistently depth of feeling. --Gramophone, Aug'13
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The greatest work on these two discs is the twelfth quartet, which is special for musical and biographical reasons. Shostakovich uses atonality throughout the piece, and sets a grim mood with his opening theme, which contains all twelve, unrepeated, notes of the chromatic scale. Before an uncharacteristically optimistic ending, Shostakovich provides his usual jocular, sarcastic episodes, alternating with almost mystical periods that make reference to late Beethoven. High marks to the Pacifica Quartet for keeping all of this in hand. Knowing the circumstances of Shostakovich's life at the time, especially relating to his health, adds a tragic dimension to the music.
Kudos to Cedille for this fascinating series, providing the Pacifica Quartet a platform for a vital new Shostakovich series while adding context with important works by other Soviet composers. I've learned a lot from the excellent notes by David Fanning, and love the evocative posters used on the CD covers.
My initial reaction to this release was quite positive. Listening to Quartet 9, I was impressed by the Pacifica Quartet's ability to walk the tightrope between control and chaos in this mercurial score, not to mention their undeniable athleticism, intensity and commitment. Cedille's vivid, visceral recorded sound only enhanced this impression. But then I put on the 1965 recording by the Beethoven Quartet. This distinguished ensemble gave the premiere performance of the 9th (and all the other Shostakovich quartets, save his first). Their authority and confidence in this repertory has never been matched by any other group.
While the Pacifica Quartet plays the 9th Quartet adequately and even admirably, the Beethovens attack this music mercilessly.Compared to Pacifica, the Beethoven Quartet's tempos are faster, their accents more violent, their tone more strident, and the recorded sound more claustrophobic--all of which serves Shostakovich's acerbic writing splendidly.There's never a dull moment in any of the Beethoven's recordings, where every single note has a deep emotional resonance. This is especially true in the slow movements, which tend to ramble and lack focus in Pacifica's hands.
The Beethoven Quartet also handles tempo relationships with exceptional skill. Consider, for example, Quartet 11, which is essentially a single movement cast in seven contrasting sections, played without pause. Beethoven splendidly captures the the work's cinematic qualities while ensuring that each section builds organically upon the last. Pacifica does well in the opening portions of the score, though their Scherzo is playful rather than demonic. But the Elegy and Postlude seem sluggish, and little is made of the contrasting tempos (adagio then moderato) specified by the composer.
The real gem here is the little-known Sixth Quartet of Mieczslaw Weinberg dating from 1946 that fills out the second disc. Perhaps befitting the exuberance of the immediate post-war period, Weinberg's style is far more romantic and lyrical than Shostakovich's. There are many striking themes and dramatic developments here along with tantalizing hints of Prokofiev and Khachaturian. Moreover the joyous exuberance of this music seems far more suited to the Pacifica's style than the bitterness and ennui of Shostakovich. Let's hope that this fine ensemble gives us more Weinberg in the near future.