Like the earlier volumes in this series, Nimbus and the Kopelman
Quartet couple a Shostakovich Quartet with a work by one of
his contemporaries. Quartets Nos. 3 and 7 were coupled with
Prokofiev’s Quartet No.2 on NI5762, a release which left Colin
Clarke asking for more – see review.
Quartets Nos. 1 and 8 were joined by Miaskovsky’s Quartet No.13
on NI5287, another success in the opinion of Bob Briggs – see
Now Shostakovich’s Quartet No.10 is paired with Weinberg’s Piano
Two years separated the first two releases and almost three
more have now elapsed. May we have a shorter gap before the
next release, please?
Those enthusiastic earlier MusicWeb International reviews are
quoted in the booklet of the new recording, which always leave
me with the $64,000 question – do I agree with them and if not,
why not? In fact, having listened to the earlier volumes via
the Naxos Music Library, I thought their enthusiasm fully justified
but this time round I’m sorry to say that I found the Shostakovich
half of the CD a trifle disappointing.
The opening Andante begins very quietly, almost inaudibly
at normal listening levels: this is not one for playing in the
car – you’ll be half-way to your destination before you hear
anything much, since the volume level remains low throughout
That may be the reason for my feeling that a degree of commitment
to the music was missing from this account, but even the second
movement, though certainly allegretto, is not quite furioso
enough. The work may be dedicated to Weinberg – hence the coupling
– but it’s Beethoven’s Late Quartets that I always hear underpinning
Shostakovich’s later works in the same genre and I don’t quite
hear the usual echo of Beethoven in this performance.
The third movement is again pitched at a low volume and a slightly
low level of intensity – it’s dreamy rather than impassioned.
Even the finale didn’t quite convince me, either, so that I
was left with memories of what might have been in the light
of those earlier Kopelman recordings and other performances
of the Shostakovich Tenth Quartet.
What other performances? Starting at the budget end of the market,
you could do much worse than the eponymous Shostakovich Quartet’s
late-1970s and 1980s recordings, ex-Olympia, ex-Regis and now
on the Alto label: No.10 was until recently on a 2-CD Regis
set but has recently migrated to Alto ALC1112 (with Nos. 4 and
£5.99 post free). The complete set is also available on
ALC5002, five CDs for around £22.
Chandos have two strong competitors: the Borodin Quartet in
an almost-complete 4-CD set on CHAN10064H, at a very competitive
price (around £16 in the UK) and the Sorrel Quartet on CHAN9741
(with Nos.6 and 7) or as a complete set on CHAN10398 with the
Piano Quintet for about £24. The Emerson Quartet have
a well-regarded set on DGG 475 407 (around £29) and the Quatuor
Danel on Fuga Libera (FUG512, around £40) have also been much
praised, though their set appears to be currently out of stock.
The complete Fitzwilliam Quartet set on Decca now looks a little
pricey at around £35 for recordings of some vintage (455 7762).
The 2-CD Regis set with No.10 is the only one that I didn’t
buy, so I turned to the Naxos Music Library to hear its latest
reincarnation on Alto and immediately found in the first movement
what I had been missing in the Kopelman Quartet’s version. NML
have both recordings and most of the others that I’ve mentioned,
so subscribers can make the comparison for themselves, though
you need to bear in mind that the low mp3 bit-rate won’t give
a full idea of what to expect from the CDs or even from the
better quality mp3 files which come with downloads from NML’s
partners at classicsonline.com.
The booklet of notes, better than usual from Alto, is available
from NML and comes as part of the download from classicsonline.com.
The Shostakovich Quartet keep the music moving here and again
in the second movement, where, despite the fact that they adopt
almost exactly the same tempo, they capture the furioso-ity
and Beethovenian mania that the Kopelmans don’t quite achieve.
In the adagio, they take an extra 30 seconds to bring
out all the raw emotion and again in the Finale give the music
just a little more space. It’s even worth duplicating the oft-recorded
No.8, which most collectors will already have, to obtain No.10
and No.4 on ALC1112 or download it from classicsonline.com.
I shall without doubt now be completing my set of the recordings
by the Shostakovich Quartet: watch out for a review in a future
The Alto recording is no match in terms of dynamic range for
the Nimbus – it’s all rather at the same level – but the wide
range of the Nimbus can be a mixed blessing, as I’ve indicated.
Even with slightly dated ADD sound – not a major problem by
any means – the Shostakovich Quartet sounds much more up-front
than the Kopelmans, which is surely right for this composer.
The St Petersburg Quartet on Hyperion in No.10 (CDA67156, with
Nos.12 and 14 – Archive Service or download in mp3 or lossless
– for £7.99) open more quietly than the Shostakovich Quartet,
though the recording is not at such a low volume as the Nimbus.
Their tempo, however, is closer to the Alto version, demonstrating
again that a time of just over four minutes seems more appropriate
for this movement than the Kopelmans’ just over five.
Though the Petersburg performers take a little longer over the
second movement than either of the others, they manage to capture
the furioso marking – perhaps not quite as successfully
as on the Alto recording. Overall I think this performance runs
the Shostakovich Quartet a close second and the recording offers
greater range of volume, though never quite as extreme as the
Nimbus. Having been very impressed with their recording of Nos.11,
13 and 15 (CDA67157 – see January 2011 Download Roundup),
I wasn’t surprised that I enjoyed this recording: I really cannot
understand how it comes to be available only to special order
or as a download. It is excellent value in download form, with
lossless at the same price as mp3 and a pdf booklet as part
of the deal.
Without comparisons – I don’t recall hearing it before, but
I found it impressive in this performance – I enjoyed the Weinberg
coupling much more, and shall be listening to this part of the
CD again. Most listeners, however, will not be thinking of purchasing
the disc in the first instance for Weinberg (formerly spelled
Vainberg: the Nimbus notes have it both ways). There are rival
recordings on Melodiya – see review
– and RCA – see review.
The RCA seems to be no longer available.
The Nimbus recording is clear, though it benefits from a small
volume boost. Performance venue and date are not given in the
notes, though I assume that Nimbus’s own studios on the Wyastone
Estate were employed for all three recordings.
Something of a mixed bag, then. The Shostakovich just fails
to capture the emotional heart of the music, but I want to hear
the Weinberg again – indeed, this performance makes me want
to explore his music further. Your attitude to the recording
will depend on the extent to which you demand a wide dynamic
range, as here, or can live with the older Alto version with
the Shostakovich Quartet. My choice would unhesitatingly be
for the latter as far as the Shostakovich work is concerned.