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Cat. No. CHAN 10248 Price: £0 No. of discs: 1
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CHAN 10248 - Shostakovich: Complete String Quartets, Vol. 5
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Available From: 06 September 2004
String Quartet No. 5 in B flat major belongs to that clutch of works (including the Fourth Quartet and the first Violin Concerto) which the composer withheld from public performance during the period 1946-53 when the infamous Zhdanov Decree imposed a virtual ban on music deemed to be ‘inaccessible to the wide masses’. This was hardly a propitious time for the unveiling of serious chamber music, and with his livelihood at stake, the heavily censured composer was taking no chances. By the time the work was premiered in 1953 it was nearly seven years since a new quartet by Shostakovich had been heard in Moscow. The death of Stalin earlier that year had begun to open doors to a greater freedom of creative expression as Soviet Russia stood on the brink of ‘the thaw’.

The work is a substantial, even symphonic work. Running to a playing time of over thirty minutes, this large-limbed, large-scale work dwarfs its comparatively slight predecessor and bears many compositional features which point towards the Tenth Symphony, premiered a month later.

The whole of Shostakovich’s last creative period is summed up in his final quartet, String Quartet No. 15 in E flat minor (to the end the composer continued his original plan of writing a quartet in every major and minor key).This is a key far removed from the innocent C major of the work that launched Shostakovich’s career as a writer of string quartets back in 1938. The sombre contents and funereal aspect suggest that Shostakovich was composing his requiem. Its style, like that of the fourteenth and fifteenth symphonies, is characterised by the composer’s extraordinary assimilation of Schoenberg’s twelve-note aesthetic. The sustained intensity of this quartet, which has been referred to as ‘a racking medley of Adagios’ is remarkable for a composer in such frail health.

'Theirs is essentially a neo-classical approach: clear-focused, painstakingly voiced, tonally ingratiating and structurally aware, allowing the music to do the talking with the minimum of interference.'
The Strad

This is the fifth disc in the British Sorrel Quartet’s Shostakovich survey; I’ve now reviewed three of them and am more than ever convinced that the Sorrel members are creating something special. In the face of stiff competition, their dramatic, detailed interpretations stand out – conscientious and convincing, firmly supported by secure, sometimes startling technical ability, appropriate tonal qualities and a powerful ensemble sensibility. The discs I’ve heard prior to this one have been impressive in their way, but these accounts of the 5th and 15th quartets are brilliant.

The Sorrels make intelligent musical decisions, play with great sound, and are recorded superbly. There are few essential recordings of these works…But it’s hard to have just one recording of these works. The Sorrel will make a good addition to any collection.
American Record Guide

'Once again , the Sorrel delivers a fine and often atmospheric performance, the latter quality being particularly hard to achieve without the benefit of a live audience.'
BBC Music Magazine

'With sound that is a model of spacious yet focused quartet recording, and a succinct but informed note from Eric Roseberry, the disc will be an automatic purchase for those following this most impressive of current Shostakovich traversals.'
International Record Review

'The superlative Sorrel Quartet have now recorded 13 of Shostakovich's 15 string quartets. They are up against formidable competition, but their playing and their understanding of the music equals that of their international rivals' a superb performance, recorded in Snape Maltings.'
BBC Music Magazine


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