Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Complete String Quartets
Quatuor Danel (Marc Danel (violin I), Gilles Millet (violin II); Tony Nys (viola); Guy Danel (cello))
rec. Bayerischer Rundfunk, Studio 2, Munich, October 2001-May 2005 (1,
3-12); Farao Studio, Munich, June 2005, (2, 13, 14);
Bavaria Studio, Munich, May 2015 (15) ALPHA CLASSICS 226 [5 CDs: 386:22]
I came to love these works when I was in my teens through the Borodin Quartet’s wonderful first recording of the then complete quartets (Nos. 1-13) on EMI Classics/Melodiya, now available on Chandos CHAN 10064(4). The line-up changed before the composer completed his final two quartets and the cycle was concluded with a single LP performed by Beethoven Quartet - a recording now in a Doremi box, DHR-7911-5. Both those quartets will forever be associated with these works, giving the premiere performances, as well as making the first recordings, of most of them. These musicians were also known to have advised Shostakovich.
My recordings of the quartets have largely revolved around Soviet cycles. As well as the Borodin’s set mentioned above I own their second recording, this time of the complete works, recorded between 1978 and 1983 on Melodiya MEL CD 10 01077, as well as most of the Shostakovich String Quartet’s recordings for Olympia, which are now available in a box set on Alto ALC 5002. I suppose my opinion may have been clouded by Russian performance practice. Whilst I greatly enjoyed the performance of the Quatuor Danel, I did at times find that their more western sensibilities lacked on occasion the visceral intensity that I had become use to. However, in the slower movements the Danel shine and they are the equal to anything that the Russians have to offer. For example, their control in the slow opening Elegy (Adagio) of the E flat Minor Quartet, No. 15, one of my favourites among all Shostakovich works, is wonderful and intense. Their performance in the rest of the quartet especially when the theme from the opening movement re-emerges in the final Epilogue (Adagio) is one of the finest on record. Another highlight is the B flat Major Quartet, No. 13. Here their tempos are slightly slower than most but they prove themselves excellent interpreters of this single movement work.
Where this set wins out is in the recording. Yes, the Melodiya sound is good, but it is now showing its age. Yes, you get the odd heavy breath although not enough to detract. Also, this set contains the finest notes that I have come across. Not only do you get an introduction by Frans C. Lemaire, there's also a sixteen page survey of the Fifteen Quartets by David Fanning. While that survey might not be as detailed as the notes in the Borodin Quartet's second cycle the latter can at times read like a translation. It is worth getting the Alpha Classics set for those notes alone.
Contents CD 1 [79:53]
Quartet No. 2 in A Major Op. 68 (1944) [34:36]
Quartet No. 7 in F-Sharp Minor Op. 108 (1960) [12:30]
Quartet No. 5 in B-Flat Major Op. 92 (1952) [32:16] CD 2 [78:34]
Quartet No. 6 in G Major Op. 101 (1956) [24:26]
Quartet No. 3 in F Major Op. 73 (1946) [28:36]
Quartet No. 13 in B-Flat Major Op. 138 (1970) [21:43] CD 3 [80:05]
Quartet No. 14 in F-Sharp Major Op. 142 (1973) [28:10]
Quartet No. 8 in C Minor Op. 110 (1960) [22:05]
Quartet No. 12 in D-Flat Major Op. 133 (1968) [29:21] CD 4 [70:02]
Quartet No. 4 in D Major Op. 83 (1949) [25:32]
Quartet No. 11 in F Minor Op. 122 (1966) [16:54]
Quartet No. 9 in E-Flat Major Op. 117 (1964) [27:26] CD 5 [77:48]
Quartet No. 1 in C Major Op. 49 (1938) [15:10]
Quartet No. 10 in A-Flat Major Op. 118 (1964) [23:41]
Quartet No. 15 in E-Flat Minor Op. 144 (1974) [38:35]