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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The Fourth Quartet (1949), in contrast to its dramatic predecessor of three years earlier, is a wholly lyrical work. But any notion that it is a less important work is soon challenged by the sheer accomplishment of the writing and the depth of feeling it communicates. In Russia it has long been one of the most frequently performed of Shostakovich's quartets. Economical of material, immensely sensitive in matters of texture, and full of subtle nuances and modifications of ideas, this is the work of a man who has made the medium his own, not only technically but as a means of expressing his keenest perceptions. The principal material of the opening movement is like the bagpipe music of some Eastern folk culture, but as only Shostakovich would have re-created it: the use made of modal inflections and the frenetic pitch of intensity arrived at after barely 30 bars are very characteristic. There is perfect timing and control in the way this passage yields to a warm espressivo, the effect of which is greatly to modify and subdue the 'bagpipe music' when it returns. The mystery of this movement is why it should seem so justly proportioned when the only real climax, dynamically at least, comes very early; but justly proportioned it is. The Andantino, in F minor, one of the most heart-warming of all Shostakovich's slow movements, is an ardent lyrical expression in which prominence is given to the first violin. Instead of a scherzo there is a Classical Allegretto in C minor, perhaps the most Haydnesque movement Shostakovich wrote; this is followed by a very individual finale in which the strains of an Eastern (Caucasian?) folk music are once again invoked. For the most part sparely textured,
but with a central climax that is almost orchestral in character, the finale is based on a number of short, reiterated ideas which are combined in various ways, rather in the manner of a closely controlled improvisation.
The Eleventh Quartet (1966) is an almost cryptic work. In seven short movements, played without a break, it is economical, tightly held and often spare in texture in a way that recalls the Seventh Quartet. It is also a peculiarly poignant, desolate work, instinct with suffering and an awareness of mortality. The main material of the opening movement (Introduction) is heard at once on the first violin, but far more important for the work as a whole is the theme played by the cello when it first enters. This is nothing less than a 'motto': all but one of the other six movements are dominated by it. In the scherzo (ii) the 'motto' appears in even quavers and is present throughout, in the Etude (iv) it is heard in running semiquavers as well as in the theme that goes with them-and so on. The exception is the curiously named Recitative (iii), a fierce,, jagged utterance which takes its cue from the seemingly innocent rhythmic figure at the end of the scherzo. Even here, though, the 'motto' makes an appearance (briefly,
espressivo). The Humoresque (v) reveals an extreme, and straightforward, example of Shostakovich's use of reiteration, and in the Elegy (vi) there is almost certainly a discreet allusion to the 'Marcia funebre' from the Eroica Symphony: the quartet is dedicated to the memory of V. P. Shirinsky, a member of the Beethoven Quartet. The muted finale is a re-creation of the beginning of the scherzo, with the addition of material from the introduction.
Little need be said of the Sixth Quartet (1956), not because of any inadequacy or poverty of invention, but rather because the music is straightforwardly lyrical and relaxed. It is one of Shostakovich's happiest works, in both senses: troubled feelings are present in the background, but the overriding impression is one of composure and immaculate workmanship. The lucidity, precision and overall balance are exemplary; every note tells, and every rest likewise. The slow movement (iii) is a passacaglia, and its theme (ground bass) is re-introduced at the climax of the finale (cf. the Third Quartet), when it is played in canon by cello and viola. At the end of each movement the cello has the same cadential phrase.
from notes - HUGH OTTAWAY, 1974 and 1976