Apollon Musagete Quartett

Russian Soul

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It's hard to know what to make of the Russian Soul title of this release by Poland's young Apollon Musagète Quartet. Is the program, with only Shostakovich from the truly nationalist side of the Russian compositional roster, supposed to represent "the Russian soul?" Or just a Russian brand of soul? In any event, only the Shostakovich String Quartet No. 4 in D major, Op. 83, fits the general stereotype of the inward, melancholy, perhaps self-destructive Russian soul. Tchaikovsky's popular String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11, of 1871, is both the first true efflorescence of the composer's proto-neo-classic Mozartian side and nearly the first evidence of his ability to write a real heartbreaker of a good tune, in the slow movement (track 2). The Apollon Musagète group gives it a brisk, high-spirited, and playful performance overall, with fine sustained lyricism in the slow movement. The Visions fugitives, Op. 22, of Prokofiev, recently arranged for string quartet from the original piano works by Sergei Samsonov, work delightfully as quartet pieces. Most substantial is Shostakovich's quartet, written in 1949 after the composer's second round with Soviet authorities. It's as if Shostakovich tried to comply with Stalinist socialist-realist directives but lost heart before the end, which is as chilling a portrait of a creative artist's spiritual isolation as anything in the Shostakovich canon. The composer rightly withheld the work until after Stalin's death. The Apollon Musagète Quartet catches the tensions running beneath the work's surface, and in general these are fresh, energetic readings, beautifully recorded.

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