Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Another great entry in an important string quartet series

June 21, 2013:

This is the third set in the Pacifica Quartet's excellent series The Soviet Experience, which connects groups of Shostakovich string quartets with other Soviet string quartets. The Quartet is now up to the mid-1960s in their Shostakovich cycle: the pair of #9 and #10 date from 1964, while #11 was written in 1966 and #12 in 1968. The Pacifica Quartet are outstanding in these works, and they provide a strong case as well for the sixth quartet of Mieczslaw Weinberg, written in 1948.

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.

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