Wigmore Hall Shostakovich Quartets – 4

String Quartet No.1 in C, Op.49
String Quartet No.12 in D flat, Op.133
String Quartet No.8 in C minor, Op.110

Jerusalem Quartet
[Alexander Pavlovsky & Sergei Bresler (violins), Amihai Grosz (viola) & Kyril Zlotnikov (cello)]

Reviewed by: Rob Witts

Reviewed: 21 February, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

This concert, continuing Wigmore Hall’s celebration of the Shostakovich centenary, the Jerusalem Quartet now taking over from the Aviv Quartet, was a reminder of the range of the composer’s quartet writing.

Quartet No.1 served as an appetiser to the meatier fare ahead, its small scale matching its lightweight ambitions (in spite of the slightly hopeful claims made for it by David Fanning’s programme note). Accordingly, the Jerusalem Quartet delivered a slick and sparkling performance, the irresistibly light scherzo a rare excursion into uncomplicated pleasure.

In contrast, Quartet No.12 began in complex and brooding fashion, with its serpentine twelve-note theme silkily rendered by Kyril Zlotnikov’s cello (an instrument formerly owned by Jacqueline du Pré). Shostakovich used twelve-tone technique less as an organisational principle than as local colour, and so it is here, the atonal knots gradually unpicked into a solid D flat major.

The playing was once again technically excellent and committed, though firmly in the modern international tradition of Shostakovich performance, with none of the Russian stylisation of the Beethoven or Borodin ensembles.

Sooner or later, all Shostakovich quartet cycles must broach the problem of No.8, a work so ubiquitous that its expressive capacity has been dulled by over-exposure; when the music’s main claim to greatness is as an unmediated howl of human suffering, this is problematic.

The Jerusalem Quartet’s answer was to downplay the score’s grotesque gestures; this was the most refined account of the work I have heard, played with fine phrasing and lustrous tone. Unfortunately, these fine young musicians failed to project any of the anguish that animates the score, leaving one uncomfortably aware of its limitations.

  • The Jerusalem Quartet continues on 23 & 25 February
  • Wigmore Hall

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