|" ... After Joseph Stalin condemned his music in 1936, Dmitri Shostakovich never left home without soap and toothbrush."
The Shostakovich String Quartet No. 3 in F starts as a jaunty, flitting melody, but it quickly gets whipped into a frenzy, and we suddenly find ourselves in a world of personal music where cynicism, ambiguity, sarcasm and building anger and despair routinely co-exist.
In this artistically rich recording of the Shostakovich string quartets 3, 7 and 8, the St. Lawrence String Quartet fully evokes the complex black humour and the range of strange beauty that runs throughout these powerful and individually different three string quartets.
At the 1:18 mark in the first movement of the String Quartet No. 3, a repeating jazz-like vamp subtly plays with tonality and dissonance and in so doing, it creates existential moments of intriguing unease and uncertainty. In the finale section, an angry group interweaving of voices ultimately fades out in muted, distanced emotions.
String Quartet No. 7 in F# Minor the shortest quartet, and the first written in a minor key is driven by the austere and bouncing 3-note violin figure. Without pause, the violin continues to rise above the sorrowful reiterated arpeggios. The orchestration remains sparse as three instruments play; sometimes two. Then after evolving into a whirling dervish waltz, the piece abruptly deconstructs and resolves in a form of compromise into the major key.
Composed in 1960 in three intense days, the String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor (also known in Russia as the 'Dresden' quartet) was favourably declared an anti-Fascist work by the Soviet powers-that-be.
To be sure, the piece opens on the bombed out city of Dresden. A scene of death and desolation. You can hear the wailing sirens and the sounds of wartime destruction and brutality, and over all there lies a brooding atmosphere of grey aftermath; but in reality, Shostakovich had already turned his music inward.
Using the notes D, E flat, C, B which translate into the letters DSCH (D. SCHostakovich) and passing these four notes around from instrument to instrument, the composer engages in a varied form of self-quotation which also includes passages from his First Cello Concerto and his opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. His pitched despair is palpable.
The contribution of Shostakovich to the string quartet repertoire is one of the most important of any 20th century composer and listeners are fortunate because the world-class St. Lawrence Quartet has chosen to deliver these remarkable Shostakovich quartets in all their full expressive power.
reviewed by David Fujino December 2006