Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
String Quartet No.10 in A-flat, Op.118 (1964) [25:10]
Mieczyslaw WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Piano Quintet, Op.18* (1944) [40:53]
Kopelman Quartet (Mikhail Kopelman, Boris Kuschnir, Igor Sulyga, Mikhail Milman) with Elizaveta Kopelman (piano)*
rec. date and venue not stated. (Wyastone estate?). (P) and (C) 2011. DDD.
NIMBUS NI5865 [66:10]
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 review. Now Shostakovich’s Quartet No.10 is paired with Weinberg’s Piano Quintet.
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 the movement.
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 8, around £5 in the UK). 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 Download Roundup.
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 – here – 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.
Worth having for the Weinberg but the Shostakovich is not quite up to the standard of the earlier Kopelman Quartet recordings.