Pacifica Quartet at Wigmore Hall – Shostakovich Cycle: 2 [String Quartets 4, 5 & 6]

String Quartet No.4 in D, Op.83
String Quartet No.5 in B flat, Op.92
String Quartet No.6 in G, Op.101

Pacifica Quartet [Simin Ganatra & Sibbi Bernhardsson (violins), Masumi Per Rostad (viola) & Brandon Vamos (cello)]

Reviewed by: Tully Potter

Reviewed: 13 October, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

While I am grateful that the Pacifica Quartet is going through the Shostakovich cycle in chronological order, this arrangement does make for the occasional lopsided programme. No one could pretend that having the Sixth Quartet after the interval could equate with hearing the Fourth and Fifth before it, and it is to the credit of the players that there was very little, if any, sense of anti-climax.

The Fourth Quartet is strong in folk elements. Hugh Ottaway used to hear bagpipe music in the first movement; and the third and fourth are particularly ‘ethnic’ in their material, the finale even incorporating klezmer motifs – curiously, having introduced a Jewish tinge to the Second Quartet, Simin Ganatra did not stress this aspect here. The first movement was beautifully done; and the slow movement sustained a deeply felt intensity, partly through strong rhythmic underpinning. The rhythms of the last two movements were also very good. Those brought up on the Janáček Quartet’s Supraphon recording will know that a rougher, more homespun approach can be equally valid in this work, but the Pacifica’s refined ‘tough love’ was thoroughly convincing.

The Fifth Quartet, which appears to be linked to the contiguous Tenth Symphony, finds Shostakovich handling large-scale structures with similar ease. It also clearly has biographical resonances, with the use of the DSCH signature and a theme from the Clarinet Trio by the composer’s pupil Galina Ustvolskaya, in whom he had a more than friendly (but unrequited) interest. The massive opening movement was furiously intense, the Andante held the audience spellbound and the varied dispositions of the finale were well caught, right up to the gently sad ending.

The Sixth Quartet is Shostakovich at his most classical in mood, if not necessarily in form. As David Fanning suggests in his programme note, nothing is ever quite straightforward with Shostakovich, and the embedding of DSCH in the harmony of the weird little cadence-coda that ends each movement is obviously significant. The passacaglia, marked Lento, was particularly absorbing on this occasion. I think all my concert experiences of this work have come in complete cycles and I cannot recall another performance as finely played as this one.

Throughout the evening, the Pacifica maintained superb intonation and ensemble and a splendid dynamic range which illuminated many passages, not least the quiet endings of some movements. Where appropriate, the string tone was unfailingly beautiful; and at the more strident moments the musicians never tore the tone to tatters.

  • The Pacifica’s Shostakovich cycle continues on 14 October 2011
  • Wigmore Hall

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