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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Complete String Quartets, Volume 6
String Quartets: No. 1 in C, Op. 49 (1938) [14'54]; No. 12 in D flat, Op. 133 (1968) [29'02]; Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57 (1940) [32'52]
Sorrel Quartet (Gina McCormack, Catherine Yates, violins; Sarah-Jane Bradley, viola; Helen Thatcher, cello) with Martin Roscoe (piano).
Rec. Snape Maltings Concert Hall on May 6th-8th, 2003 (Quartet No. 1); January 10th-12th, 2005. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN10329 [76'56]


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Coming so soon after the similar Capriccio disc which coupled Quartets Nos. 1 and 4 with the Piano Quintet (see review), this Chandos issue offers fascinating scope for comparison – and wins on just about every count.

The Sorrel Quartet play with exceptional technical security coupled with a real feeling for the music. They are able to project the full run of emotions the composer evokes – and it is the full gamut – because they are so obviously on Shostakovich's wavelength.

Beginning with the first quartet, it is the recording's depth that is the first thing to strike the listener. This is expert engineering, all in the service of the players' focus and concentration. Pianissimi have a rapt quality about them, and when Shostakovich pares his textures down in the second movement it is heart-stopping. Yet the Allegro molto third movement buzzes with energy. Only the finale could benefit from more earthiness.

Where the Petersen Quartet added the Fourth Quartet, the Sorrel has opted for the Twelfth of some thirty years later. There is an interesting disjunction between Eric Roseberry's booklet note, which refers to the 'calm D flat tonality of the first movement'. The Sorrel Quartet adds to this calm a soupçon of disquiet that is most appropriate. Most importantly there is a sense that the Sorrel Quartet knows the score intimately, a sureness of foot (or feet) as to where it is all going.

The contrast in the longer second movement (the quartet is proportioned 7'41 then 21'20) is huge. The trills of the opening are positively diabolic in nature; for some reason the recording seems closer here. The ensuing energy is very slightly blunted, however. Still, in the context of the sweep of the whole performance this is petty whinging. The Sorrel Quartet is infinitely responsive, pointing out the modernism (try around 5'10 of this second movement) with great relish. The Twelfth is a challenge for performers and listeners alike – certainly the Sorrels pass with flying colours.

Finally, the Piano Quintet. Here the Chandos release confirms its superiority to the Capriccio one. Martin Roscoe is, I have long felt, an under-appreciated national treasure, unfailingly musical in all he does. He does not disappoint, and his 'tidiness of finger' really impresses in the finale. The highlight of this performance is the threadbare Fugue, whispered conspiratorially at first and rising naturally to its climax. Roscoe can be so delicate here. For 11'01, time is suspended before the spiky Scherzo brings us all back to earth. The recording seems a little boomy in this Scherzo.

It is in the gentler parts that this performance really triumphs. Perhaps some more echt-Slavic utterance in the first movement  - so nearly granitic here - would have clinched it. But this remains a most impressive release.

Colin Clarke






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