Notes and Editorial Reviews
With this disc, we have reached the conclusion of the Sorrel survey of the Shostakovich string quartets. I have not yet heard the first two installments, but it?s been my good fortune to be able to review the final four, and their consistent high quality convinces me that this is a remarkable achievement, fully competitive with (and in most cases surpassing) previous Shostakovich cycles in terms of technique, commitment, understanding, and style. Beyond that, any individual preference is, I suppose, a matter of taste.
In the First Quartet, the Sorrel take a similar tack to that adopted by the Borodin Quartet(s)?rich ensemble and a
serious demeanor in this relatively lightweight music?though they eschew a few of the older groups? exaggerated details that help to intensify the mood. For example, the slow second movement hasn?t the tension, and thus lacks the weariness, which the Russians bring out; and the Sorrel take the fourth movement at a slightly more measured speed, not the headlong sprint of both Borodin accounts. (In fact, the older of the Borodins, available only in a highly recommended set of the first 13 quartets on Chandos, may reveal more of the First Quartet?s nuances and secrets than any other version.) Nevertheless, the Sorrel players are noteworthy for their characteristic unanimity, pinpoint dynamics, and clarity (bringing forward inner voices).
Even better is their performance of the 12fth Quartet. They begin at a slightly faster tempo than the Borodin versions, illuminating some of the harmonies which otherwise slip past, though at this speed, in certain passages first violinist Gina McCormack is unable to (or chooses not to) emote with the expressiveness of later Borodin (EMI/Melodiya) first violinist Mikhail Kopelman. And they tighten the screws even more in the extended second movement. Unafraid to push forward or to emphasize those moments of friction which border on harshness?for example, making those briefly slashing strings just before 25 and again between 56 and 57 almost as scary as Bernard Herrmann?s in
they build dramatic momentum through contrasts of tempo, such as their quickness in the pages just before 45, which makes the segue to the adagio episode at that point all the more effective. They give equal weight to each instrument, which helps delineate shared motifs, and make convincing decisions along the way, offering a sense of gravitas that differs perhaps in breadth but not in commitment to that of the still-impressive Borodins.
Though the 12fth is an admirable end to their cycle, the Sorrel?s performance of the Piano Quintet (ably assisted by pianist Martin Roscoe) is actually the centerpiece of this disc. As always, their attention to dynamics, balance, and phrasing uncovers many felicitous details. The Prelude is robust but not bloated with pathos, and the first violin?s tender introduction to the Fugue sets off a sequence of events that grow rich and heartfelt. The Scherzo is playful, but they don?t exaggerate the filigree, as some quartets do, and they expose the chromatic harmonies in the Intermezzo, which most quartets don?t. Crisp accents enliven the Finale, notwithstanding the haunting delicacy with which they caress the concluding pages.
Their survey of the Shostakovich quartets has proven the Sorrel foursome to be a great ensemble. I wonder what they will turn their attention to next? Nobody asked me, but I?d love to hear them tackle the Hindemith quartets?and
FANFARE: Art Lange
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