SHOSTAKOVICH: String Quartets Nos. 2, 1 & 7 / Carducci String Quartet / Signum Classics SIGCD559
Sitting atop a pile of rubble and dressed like punk rockers, the Carducci Quartet is comin’ at ya with Shostakovich. Only God, Signum and the quartet knows what this signifies. Surely poor Dmitri S. would be completely baffled by the presentation.
For most listeners and critics, myself included, the gold standard in these works are the performances by the old Borodin Quartet, and I still stand by that assessment. The Carducci Quartet plays these works in the typical post-modern style by which nearly everyone’s string quartets are played, particularly 20th-century ones: crisp, clean and fast. Happily, Shostakovich can take this sort of approach without any damage. His quartets are, in my estimation, his very best music, well-written, brilliantly developed and emotional without his usual pathos or bathos. There is little if any hand-wringing or breast-beating in his quartets. Listening to these works, it’s easy to understand why Mieczysław Weinberg admired him so much.
Of course, the Carducci group isn’t completely straightforward in every movement; if they were I wouldn’t have chosen to review this CD. In the slow movements, they introduce some subtle moments of rubato and play with considerable feeling, which elevates their work by a good margin. By and large, their sound profile is bright and crisp, as was the case with many Italian string groups in the past (think of Quartetto Italiano or I Musici), which is different from the brilliant-but-dark profile of many Russian or other Slavic quartets. It’s a fine distinction but a distinction nonetheless. In one respect I found their approach wanting, and that was in any movement based on a Russian tune, as in the last movement of the second quartet. The phrasing is just too clipped for this type of music; it has no breadth and it doesn’t “sing” properly. On the other hand, such movements as the “Allegro molto” of the first quartet are played with wonderful lightness and a slight smile in the music.
In toto, then, a nice take on these classic quartets if not a real challenge to the Borodin set.
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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