Notes and Editorial Reviews
Hot on the heels of the Hagen Quartett's DG recordings of Shostakovich's Third, Seventh, and Eighth quartets come the very same works on EMI, performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet. While the St. Lawrence players don't quite match the Hagens' extraordinary surface refinement, control, and blend, their interpretations are far more impassioned, emotionally engaging, and stylistically perceptive. Comparative listening illustrates my point.
The Hagens downplay the rude dynamic contrasts in the Eighth's central Allegretto, while the St. Lawrence's more forceful brand of swing comes closer to conveying my notion of this movement as kind of a sardonic "Danse Macabre". In addition, the St. Lawrence group takes a more liberal attitude toward the composer's expressive indications in the Third's first movement, resulting in more character and contrast than the Hagen's cooler reading reveals. Although the Hagen's seemingly fast and fluid tempo for No. 7's second-movement Lento actually adheres to Shostakovich's metronome marking, the markedly slower and more subjectively phrased St. Lawrence performance divines more mystery and tone color within the strings' muted sonorities (what eerie glissandos!).
This disc won't displace my affection for the finely-honed give-and-take that distinguishes the Emerson and Borodin reference versions, but the St. Lawrence Quartet's rougher-hewn, heartfelt, communicative, and brightly engineered performances truly hit home, and are worth hearing.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com