Shostakovich: Complete String Quartets, Vol. 5

Mandelring Quartet

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Shostakovich: Complete String Quartets, Vol. 5 Review

by James Leonard

The fifth and final volume in the Mandelring Quartett's survey of the complete string quartets of Dmitry Shostakovich has the same virtues as its earlier volumes: a hard-edged tone coupled with clear-eyed interpretations recorded in "you-are-there" sound. While those qualities served them well in the composer's early and middle quartets, they come up short in these late works. There are no technical flaws beyond slight lapses in intonation, and the ensemble is tight even in the most taxing passages. But these late works demand more than a merely clear-eyed interpretation. Everything in the scores is precisely articulated and superbly balanced here, but there are qualities implicit in the music that are apparently beyond the grasp of the players, and anyone who knows these works will miss the Eleventh Quartet's fear, the Thirteenth Quartet's terror, and the Fifteenth Quartet's bone-deep dread. Delivering well-played performances is one thing, but turning in performances that make the listener tremble with existential horror is quite another. For the real thing in this repertoire, try the recordings by the Borodin Quartet, the Taneyev Quartet, or, best of all, the Beethoven Quartet.

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