Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Release and Review: Soviet Experience, Vol. 1: Shostakovich & Myaskovsky

Soviet Experience, Vol. 1: Shostakovich & MyaskovskyClick to sample and buy the album

As William Hussey’s illuminating but theory-heavy liner notes point out, the fifteen string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich are “arguably, the greatest string quartet cycle of the twentieth century.” The Pacifica Quartet launch a complete quartet cycle with this recording that couples the String Quartets Nos. 5 – 8 with the last quartet by Shostakovich’s older contemporary Nikolay Myaskovsky (1881 – 1950). Ongoing volumes will feature Shostakovich quartets with quartets by his other Soviet contemporaries.

Shostakovich’s String Quartets are deeply personal works that offer insights into his life and the dangerous world of the totalitarian state in which he lived. At times these works are not pretty, so it’s a supreme challenge for a quartet to walk that tightrope between communicating the quartets’ hidden meanings and private messages while also remaining musical. The Pacifica negotitates that tricky balance between the fifth quartet’s pained intensity and its more lyrical moments. The eerie but beautiful transition between the first and second movement is done very well with first violinist Simin Ganatra firmly sustaining that high F until it dissolves into the ether. The Pacifica bites into those violent outer movements of the seventh quartet with a snarl and play with warmth in the eerie Lento, making it all the more unsettling. The eighth quartet is in some ways Shostakovich in a nutshell: melancholy, sardonic, lyrical and macabre. The quartet’s score was published with the subtitle “To the Victims of Fascism and War,” but its misery is a very private one, Shostakovich referred to it as a eulogy for himself. The Pacifica makes the pain almost palpable in the two Largos that close the work and deliver as disturbing (in a good way) a performance of the work as I’ve ever heard.

Myaskovsky, along with Shostakovich, Prokofiev and others were savaged by Soviet party thug Andrei Zhdanov in his 1948 edict on “Formalism in Music.” The edict was nothing more than the party grinding its boot into the face of art, but it carried weight. Myaskovsky’s career as well as that of his students was damaged. Thankfully, the Pacifica gives Myaskovsky his due with this emotionally committed and technically polished performance of his last string quartet. The work has that old-style Russian melancholy and autumnal spirit that is quite powerful and the Pacifica makes a splendid case for it.

This is a marvelous beginning to what promises to be a terrific Shostakovich cycle with the value-added pleasure of music by his lesser-known contemporaries. The Cedille engineers have outdone themselves with strikingly vivid sound quality. The cover art, a reproduction of a 1931 Soviet propaganda poster, compliments the entire production brilliantly.

Click to sample and buy the album

No comments:

Post a Comment