The St Petersburg String Quartet was formed in 1985. All four members are graduates of the Leningrad Conservatory, and their thorough schooling comes through in their technical command as well as their obvious immersion in and love of this repertoire.
The first two issues in this cycle showed these qualities (CDA67153, Quartets Nos. 2 and 3; CDA67154, Quartets Nos. 4, 6 and 8). On the present disc, they bring a very youthful quality to the Fifth Quartet of 1949. This is very definitely a positive statement, not adverse criticism, for the performance breathes life. They seem to discover concurrently with the composer the plangent solo cello under glacial upper strings in the final allegretto, for example. Simultaneously, one can only admire Shostakovich's compositional maturity in this piece (which he quoted from in the Tenth Symphony).
The Seventh Quartet (1960) is the shortest quartet of the cycle. Written in response to the death of Shostakovich's first wife, Nina, it is eloquently played here and is much more than an interlude between the two longer quartets on the disc. The challenges of the Ninth Quartet of 1964 (dedicated to his third wife, Irina Antonovna) bring out a full-blooded response from the St Petersburg Quartet, who present the disjunct gestures of the fourth movement starkly and who respond excitingly to the overt dramaticism of the climactic final movement.
The St Petersburg String Quartet faces formidable competition in this repertoire, not least from the Borodin String Quartet (who have very much made this cycle their own) and the Fitzwilliam String Quartet. They come out very much able to hold their heads high. Whilst they cannot eclipse the Borodin String Quartet in any of the quartets on this disc, their many insights and frequently rapt playing will win them many friends.