Quatuor Danel

Shostakovich: The Complete String Quartets

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There's a lot to be said for chronological order, to wit, it's instantly comprehensible. Shostakovich, for example, composed his 15 string quartets in chronological order starting with the youthful and excited First Quartet and ending with his aged and just about dead Quartet No. 15. And while it may be interesting to hear a set of the complete quartets in which chronology is disregarded, the listener is necessarily left looking for another comprehensible order. In this set of the complete quartets by the Quatuor Danel, the works appear in no particular order. Disc three, for example, opens with the penultimate and almost fatal Quartet No. 14, follows with the autobiographical and almost suicidal Quartet No. 8, and ends with the maniacal and almost atonal Quartet No. 12, an order that defies chronology along with comprehensibility. In lieu of an overriding order, the Quatuor Danel's sequence forces the listener to attend each performance individually. This is not altogether a good thing because there's also a lot to be said for ethnicity. While the Franco-German Quatuor Danel was trained by the Borodin Quartet in the secrets of Shostakovich quartet playing, it is still a quite distinctly Gallic-sounding ensemble. There is a nimbleness to its tone and a weightlessness to its sonorities, a sense of tart sweetness in its lyricism, and a touch of dry irony in its phrasing that relocates these truly, deeply, profoundly Soviet works smack dab in the middle of Europe. For those used to the extremely expressive and passionately pessimistic Borodin Quartet performances, the Quatuor Danel's performances may seem decidedly lightweight. For those looking for an alternative to excruciating existential agony, however, the Quatuor Danel's performances are an interesting alternative way to hear Shostakovich. Fuga Libera's sound is detailed, but a bit dim and a tad gray.

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