Shostakovich Quartet

Tchaikovsky: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2; Five Early Pieces

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Previously released on CD by Olympia in 1992, the Shostakovich Quartet's performances of Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No. 1 in D major, the String Quartet No. 2 in F major, and the Five Early Pieces were originally recorded for State Radio-TV at the Moscow Central Studio in the 1970s, and this provenance seems to explain the variable sound quality of this Regis reissue. The 1973 recording of the Five Early Pieces was made in an overly reverberant room, so there is a bit of an echoic haze surrounding the players, who seem distantly placed. Conversely, the 1976 recording of the String Quartet No. 1 is quite muted and boxy, with a dry tone that reveals little resonance or warmth of tone. Only the String Quartet No. 2, recorded in 1978, has a decent balance between the players and the room, with sufficient clarity of parts and a natural ambience that gives the music an attractive luster. Considerations over the CD's overall sound tend to distract from the performances themselves, which are solidly played and sensibly interpreted, but hard to get excited about with the distracting audio. Certainly the work that deserved the best care in the studio is the popular String Quartet No. 1, with its Andante cantabile counted among Tchaikovsky's greatest hits; too bad, though, that this is the work with the poorest reproduction and likely to turn listeners away to better alternatives on other labels.

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