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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975)
String Quartets 1-15 complete (see table for details)
Rubio Quartet: Dirk van de Velde, Dirk van den Hauwe, violins; Marc Sonnaert, viola; Peter Devos, cello
15 pages of notes in English, including artist photograph
Recorded live at the Roman Church, Mullern, Belgium, September 2002
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 6429 [378.16]
Sound Sample
String Quartet No 4 - (iv) Allegretto




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COMPARISON RECORDINGS
Borodin Quartet (1967) (LP): Rostislav Dubinsky, Yaroslav Alexandrov, vv; Dmitri Shebalin, va; Valentin Berlinsky, vc
Borodin Quartet (1984) [ADD]: Mikhail Kopelman, Andrei Abramenkov, vv; Dmitri Shebalin, va; Valentin Berlinsky, vc
Manhattan Quartet (1989): Eric Lewis, Roy Lewis, vv; John Dexter, va; Judith Glyde, vc.
Fitzwilliam Quartet (1977) [ADD]: Christopher Rowland, Jonathan Sparey, vv; Alan George va; Iaon Davis, vc.

 The works at hand are:

key

Op.

 year

mvts

Rubio

Borodin I

Borodin II

Fitzwilliam

Manhattan

1

C

49

1938

4

13.55

13.50

14.15

15.23

14.46

2

A

68

1944

4

35.42

35.55

38.01

35.44

34.38

3

F

73

1946

5

31.56

32.45

33.33

31.30

28.39

4

D

83

1949

4

25.37

24.55

25.07

25.44

25.37

5

Bb

92

1952

3

31.50

29.25

31.37

30.56

32.58

6

G

101

1956

4

25.19

24.40

24.14

26.40

24.34

7

f#

108

1960

3

13.12

11.50

12.29

12.44

12.40

8

c

110

1960

5

20.18

20.50

21.50

20.43

20.26

9

Eb

117

1964

5

26.07

28.25

26.51

27.13

25.17

10

Ab

118

1964

4

24.09

23.40

24.11

22.53

23.33

11

f

122

1966

7

16.53

16.50

15.16

16.03

16.35

12

Db

133

1968

2

27.10

-

27.25

27.40

26.12

13

bb

138

1970

1

20.44

-

19.56

19.07

19.54

14

F#

142

1973

3

28.03

-

28.15

26.30

26.57

15

eb

144

1974

6

35.39

-

36.24

34.46

35.25


A quartet named after a violin maker other than Stradivarius is taking something of a chance. Most people will assume that only Stradivarius violins "sound really good" and that other violins will have inferior sound. But as Jascha Heifetz proved in many experiments, nobody, not even the critics, could tell whether he was playing his Guarnerius or a modern copy; then, if he announced which violin he was playing, the critics would hear what they expected to hear. So, when he would announce he was playing a copy and go ahead and play the Guarnerius, the critics would complain it didn’t sound good. Or he would announce the Guarnerius and play the copy and the critics would rhapsodize over the tone. But the point is, Heifetz could tell. Sure, a Stradivarius or a Guarnerius sounds good, but mainly it is much easier to play, especially if you’re Heifetz.

So, do these string instruments by David Rubio sound good? You’ve never heard any sound any better. The players are doing all the work to guarantee that. The playing is dramatic and sensual. They particularly like to settle into a nice rich tonal chord and let it resonate among the four instruments and hold the taste of it for a second. They treat this music like Art of the Fugue, keeping a mostly solemn, unruffled mood throughout. The 1984 Borodiners on the other hand play some of the faster movements with a torchy vibrato and a trace of schmaltz and find a bouncy Russian folk tune here and there which they play with an earthy authenticity.

The point most clearly to be gained from the table of timings above is how much alike they all are. While the best recorded performances of the symphonies seem to be those which deviate the most from printed metronome markings, everyone here seems to stay pretty close to the score. Yet some of the movements are all but unrecognisable from one performance to the next, so, without deviating from tempo, great individual expression is possible. The string quartet is a most flexible and most sensitive instrument.

The 1970 Manhattan Quartet play with a particularly American sense of drama, that is relatively free of ‘baggage’ from the past. Here do not listen for Bach, or Stalinist terror, or the ancient sense of earthy Russian folk music. If the legendary Hollywood Quartet had ever recorded these works, I believe they would have sounded just like the Manhattan Quartet. Beautiful sound (digital recording certainly doesn’t hurt), balanced dramatics, broad range of emotions, more extroversion here and there than in the European versions. Their performance of the slow movement of Quartet #2 has an almost operatic sense of tragedy, whereas with the 1969 Borodiners this movement is a totally solitary and terrifying experience. With the Manhattan Quartet the peasant dance in Quartet #1 sounds more like something from the stage of Oklahoma than from a Russian village.

The earlier quartets tend to be more dramatic and more varied. The later quartets are largely serene and remote, or ironic.

The Fitzwilliam Quartet greatly pleased Shostakovich. He allowed them to premiere the final three quartets in the West and their recording was the first complete one. It has the most live acoustic of all, and I am not the only reviewer to wonder if the reverb were artificially boosted. Theirs is the most ‘romantic’ performance in the traditional sense with greater contrasts of tempo and texture than the others.

For a most detailed quartet by quartet comparison and rating of all known recordings, check out: http://develp.envi.osakafu-u.ac.jp/staff/kudo/dsch/work/sq1e.html.

(replace the number in the final entry with the number of the quartet in question. For instance for the tenth quartet change it to: sq10e.html.)

In the third movement of Quartet #2 listen for that little pizzicato figure that made such a nice touch in Alan Hovhaness’s Mt. St. Helens Symphony.


A very satisfactory version of these milestones in the quartet form.

 

Paul Shoemaker




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