Borodin String Quartet:
Mikhail Kopelman - Violins
Andrei Abramenkov - Violins
Dmitri Shebalin - Viola
Valentin Berlinsky - Cello
Recorded in Moscow 1983 by "Melodiya"
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Shostakovich wrote his First Quartet in 1938. Where that work is witty and relaxed, the Second Quartet (1944)-an altogether bigger piece-is dogged and intense. The extensive opening movement, headed 'Overture', is constructed from terse motivic ideas with the composer obviously enjoying the possibilities of motivic interaction and combination; closely composed, it demands close listening, and such is its staying power that not until the very end is the principal subject formally recapitulated. This is followed by a heartfelt romance, framed by lengthy declamatory passages (molto espressivo) marked 'Recitative' in a formal experiment which Shostakovich never repeated. The scherzo is a 'diabolical' waltz, haunted, as if from a distance, by the 'dance of death' imagery found in so many of his war-time and postwar compositions. Here the instruments are muted throughout, but the dynamics rise to ff and the climax is strenuous. The finale is a continuous set of variations in A minor, introduced by a short Adagio derived from the theme, which is then stated (Moderato con moto) by each instrument in turn, beginning with the viola. The variations are both imaginative and instrumentally brilliant, with a good deal of emphasis on reiterated figures and a progressive quickening of the tempo. At last there is a return to the Adagio introduction, and the movement ends with a broad declamatory version of the beginning of the theme. If the Second Quartet represents a purging of the more harrowing emotions of the later war-time compositions-the Eighth Symphony, the Piano Trio, etc-the Third (1946) may be seen as a subtler and more inward companion-piece to the Ninth Symphony, written shortly before. Natural, fluent and wholly characteristic, the Third Quartet remains one of the finest in the cycle. There are five movements. The opening sonata-form Allegretto, bright and playful, is somewhat reminiscent of the First Quartet, only here the song-like material knowingly embodies motivic ideas capable of being abstracted-for instance, the initial descending figure-and there is an urgent linear development. Three of the remaining movements, including the gentle lilting finale, are predominantly contemplative; Shostakovich's transmuting of a sense of suffering, so striking here, has at times an almost Mozartian poignancy and grace. Mozartian, too, is his feeling for the 'pathos of the major mode', and this is especially true of the finale, which fades out wistfully rather like the end of the Eighth Symphony. The centrally placed march-cum-scherzo- grotesque, hard-driven, with rapid alternations of 2/4 and 3/4-is a type of movement new to the quartets (and one that was to recur with increasing ferocity, notably in Nos.8 and 10). The slow movement (iv) is a finely textured quasi-passacaglia of great expressive power, in quality of feeling suggestive of late Beethoven. This leads directly into the finale, at the climax of which the passacaglia theme is recalled, fff espressivo.
from notes - HUGH OTTAWAY, 1974 and 1976