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Nikolai MIASKOVSKY (1881–1950)
String Quartet No.13 in A minor, op.86 (1949) [25:35]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906–1975)

String Quartet No.1 in C, op.49 (1938) [14:06]
String Quartet No.8 in C minor, op.110 (1960) [22:28]
Kopelman Quartet (Mikhail Kopelman (violin), Boris Kuschnir (violin), Igor Sulyga (viola), Mikhail Milman (cello))
rec. 22 – 23 June 2006 (Miaskovsky) and 26 – 28 July 2007 (Shostakovich), Wyastone Leys, Monmnouth, UK. DDD
NIMBUS NI 5827 [62:18]

Experience Classicsonline


Miaskovsky’s last quartet begins with an easy-going movement which is quite Haydnesque; the second subject is very playful as befits the great master. It’s quite delightful. The scherzo, second, movement, is fast and vital, a rapid dance with simple, contrasted, trio. Despite Calum MacDonald’s claim, in his excellent notes, that Miaskovsky was a master of the demonic scherzo, I hear nothing demonic in this movement, but within the scale of this music it’s quite dynamic. The slow movement is pure melody and there is no better writing for strings than melody. The finale is an amiable quick movement. There’s nothing pretentious about this music. It’s simply very good-natured, well laid out for the instruments and very tuneful.

Shostakovich’s 1st Quartet is equally amiable. It’s interesting that after all the experimentation of the 1920s, and the denunciation concerning Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, not only should he turn to the most intimate of music media, but that he should write such a slight work. Perhaps because he wasn’t to return to the medium for another six years he hadn’t realized what he could achieve with the string quartet. Originally named Springtime, although this name was quickly dropped, this quartet is bright and breezy as befits the season and gives no hint as to what was to come.

The 8th Quartet is both the most popular and the most personal of all Shostakovich’s works for the medium. Written whilst staying in Dresden, and working on the score for the film Five Days, Five Nights, the composer dedicated the work "To the victims of Fascism and War" but privately declared that the true dedicatee was himself. Full of self quotation this is a fantastic emotional trip. Three slow movements, a very fast and demonic scherzo and an demonstrative middle movement. Like Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, our knowledge of the music can cloud our appreciation and understanding of the argument. The opening movement may be seen as a lament for the victims/composer, whilst the wild danse macabre of the second, which quotes the 2nd Piano Trio in the most manic of fashions, could be yet another of Shostakovich’s portraits of Stalin and his machinations.

So here we have three Soviet Quartets, each exploring different lands, each giving much satisfaction in the journey we take with them, and each receiving performances of superlative stature. No ensemble will ever match the great Decca recording of the 8th Quartet with the Borodin Quartet (originally issued on Decca SXL 6036 and currently available on 425 541-2DM, coupled with a marvellous Borodin 2nd Quartet and the Tchaikovsky 1st Quartet played by the Gabrieli Quartet), but the Kopelman comes very close. Their intensity, poetry, insight and magnificent musicianship is obvious in every bar of these works. Their work is not to be missed and neither is this excellent disk.

Bob Briggs

 

 

 

 


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