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The Soviet Experience, Vol. 3: Shostakovich: Quartets nos 9 - 12; Weinberg: Quartet no 6 / Pacifica Quartet

Album Summary

>Shostakovich, Dmitri : Quartet for Strings no 9 in E flat major, Op. 117
>Shostakovich, Dmitri : Quartet for Strings no 10 in A flat major, Op. 118
>Shostakovich, Dmitri : Quartet for Strings no 11 in F minor, Op. 122
>Shostakovich, Dmitri : Quartet for Strings no 12 in D flat major, Op. 133
>Weinberg, Mieczyslaw : Quartet for Strings no 6 in E minor, Op. 35
Ensemble Composers

Notes & Reviews:

The electrifying Pacifica Trio is back with the highly anticipated third installment of their acclaimed Soviet Experience series. This release focuses on Shostakovich's string quartets of the 1960s, Nos. 9-12. Ranging from a balanced neoclassical form to an unpredictable riot of tonal and atonal themes, these quartet s rank among the finest of Shostakovich's later works. The adventurous String Quartet No. 6 of Mieczyslaw Weinberg, Shostakovich's friend and colleague, provides another vantage point to view this period in Soviet history. ("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, London)

American Record Guide, July/August 2013
The Pacifica's approach is smooth and Westernized. The first violin is still on the bright side. The dynamics are more detailed than before. Their playing is vigorous - 9:III and 10:II are especially intense. They have a knack for grasping the moods of the quartets and communicating them convincingly. 10:III, Adagio, almost sounds like a consort of viols playing a Byrd lament until the first violin enters. It's a good introduction to Vainberg's music, solidly built, with plenty of worthwhile themes. Enjoyable notes in English, and as I've said before, great Sovietpropaganda cover art!



Reviews

Pacifica's Shostakovich Not Wholly Satisfying
In Shostakovich's String Quartets the allegros almost always seem on the verge of spiraling out of control, like the merry-go-round at the end of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. Meanwhile the slow passages manifest a sinister quality that will have you constantly looking over your shoulder to see if the KGB is watching. Spend half an hour with any of these masterworks, and you'll have a good idea what life in the Soviet Union must have been like, especially for sensitive creative artists like Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Dmitri Shostakovich. Woe betide any ensemble that dares give a half-hearted or understated performance of this harrowing music!

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.
Submitted on 03/09/14 by Tom Godell 
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Works Details

>Shostakovich, Dmitri : Quartet for Strings no 9 in E flat major, Op. 117
  • Ensemble: Pacifica Quartet
  • Notes: Foellinger Great Hall of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois, Urbana (2012-01-12_2012-01-13&2012-)
  • Running Time: 26 min. 8 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Written: 1964

>Shostakovich, Dmitri : Quartet for Strings no 10 in A flat major, Op. 118
  • Notes: Foellinger Great Hall of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois, Urbana (2012-01-12_2012-01-13&2012-)
  • Running Time: 24 min. 16 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Written: 1964

>Shostakovich, Dmitri : Quartet for Strings no 11 in F minor, Op. 122
  • Notes: Foellinger Great Hall of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois, Urbana (2012-01-12_2012-01-13&2012-)
  • Running Time: 17 min. 7 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Written: 1966

>Shostakovich, Dmitri : Quartet for Strings no 12 in D flat major, Op. 133
  • Notes: Foellinger Great Hall of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois, Urbana (05/14/2012-05/15/2012)
  • Running Time: 26 min. 17 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Written: 1968

>Weinberg, Mieczyslaw : Quartet for Strings no 6 in E minor, Op. 35
  • Notes: Auer Hall, Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA (09/02/2012-09/03/2012)
  • Running Time: 31 min. 24 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern