Pavel Haas Quartet

Shostakovich: String Quartets 2, 7, 8

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There is no shortage of recordings of Shostakovich's string quartets in general, even if the String Quartet No. 2 in A major, Op. 68, is not one of the more common items. That work was written in 1944, amid a series of furious creative responses by Shostakovich to the war, each one of them fascinatingly different. The String Quartet No. 2 is an out-and-out Beethovenian work, a full-on assertion of the value of the Western tradition in the face of rampant inhumanity, and the Czech Republic's Pavel Haas Quartet delivers the message with unflagging energy even in the long, difficult first movement. In the String Quartet No. 7 in F sharp minor, Op. 108, the quartet shifts gears completely: this was an inward-facing work written in memory of the composer's deceased first wife, Nina, and the Pavel Haas Quartet gives it a fine, shady performance. The String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110, is also notable in the group's performance. You can find Russian recordings that play these quartets with greater anger, but sample the fourth-movement Largo, where the group lets the music speak for itself and finds that it does so quite eloquently. There's definitely room in the marketplace for the Pavel Haas Quartet's restrained approach, recorded very close up and very effectively by Supraphon engineers at Prague's Domovina Studio. Recommended, and it makes you want to hear more Shostakovich from this group.

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