Borodin String Quartet:
Mikhail Kopelman - Violins
Andrei Abramenkov - Violins
Dmitri Shebalin - Viola
Valentin Berlinsky - Cello
Recorded in Moscow 1982 by "Melodiya"
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In the Tenth Quartet (1964), Shostakovich set aside the deliberate through-thematicism of Nos.7-9 to resume the traditional four-movement plan; only the last two movements are linked, and a satisfying balance of horizontal and vertical interest is reasserted. At the same time there is much vividness and directness in the musical imagery, and a sheer ferocity about the second movement (Allegretto furioso). The overall effect is one of emotional richness and variety, with the extremes of tension and repose-repose is decidedly relative-held in a just equilibrium that can only be described as Classical. Key structure is important here, and in this respect the work is through-composed, for a basic opposition of A flat major and E minor operates throughout. This can be heard in the opening bars, where the first violin (unaccompanied) begins on the note A flat and then spells out an E minor triad. The first movement (Andante) is in A flat-in a recurring, refrain-like idea first heard as soon as the lower instruments enter, A flat emerges as a region of warmth and stability-but contrary elements are always close at hand: the initial statement by the first violin does in fact touch all twelve notes. In the scherzo E minor is fiercely, doggedly insistent, and the succeeding slow movement may be said to revolve around that key, though the tonic key is really A minor. This Adagio is among the finest of Shostakovich's slow movements and perhaps his greatest passacaglia, excepting only the one in the First Violin Concerto; the nine-bar theme (cello) is a wonderfully sensitive invention, and its treatment is full of subtle nuances, yet the impact is direct and immediate.
There are eight rotations of the theme, of which the seventh (violin) and eighth begin in the tonic major. The coda modulates to A flat major and in this key leads into the finale (Allegretto). The new theme suggests a rondo, and the sequence of events is indeed rondo-like, but with the theme and key of the passacaglia returning passionately at the climax-cf. the Third and Sixth Quartets-and the rondo theme twisting naturally into the first-movement 'refrain1 towards the close; and again, as in the Third Quartet, the 'pathos of the major mode' is much in evidence.
The Thirteenth Quartet (1970), like the Twelfth, uses twelve-note material and gives prominence to the interval of a minor 2nd. Overwhelmingly dark and painful in expression, it is in one continuous movement marked 'Adagio', but the big central span-by far the larger part of the work-moves rather more quickly. Shostakovich's imagery of violence finds new 'refinements' here: at one point four different minor 9ths are played simultaneously with the utmost vehemence. Throughout most of this part a lamenting triplet figure persists, and from time to time one or other of the players is directed to strike the belly of his instrument with the stick of the bow. The last sound we hear-a long-drawn, high B flat, rising in intensity from pp to sffff-is a microcosm of the terror at the heart of this work. Easier to take hold of than its predecessor, it is also more deeply disturbing: the music returns to its tonic, but emotionally there is no resolution.
In the Fourteenth Quartet (1973) the twelve-note element is less marked; it can afford to be, for by the time he wrote this work Shostakovich had learnt to move in this comprehensive late world of his as chromatically or diatonically as he pleased. Like so much of his music from the Fourteenth Symphony Op.135 onwards, this quartet is felt to be haunted by death.
The quartet is dedicated to the cellist Sergei Shirinsky, whose instrument figures prominently in all three movements. The key is F sharp major, and the opening Allegretto begins innocently enough with a seemingly inconsequential little tune on the cello and a sustained F sharp on the viola. Two features of the tune are worth noticing: the reiteration of a single phrase, and the use of this phrase in a rising as well as a falling version. Soon this same material and mode of thought develop more painfully and strenuously. A second (related) idea is also introduced by the cello. The design is clearly based on the sonata principle, but with a free recapitulation. The Adagio begins with an important theme on the first violin, unaccompanied. Shortly afterwards this is taken up by the cello, partnered only by the first violin. The textures remain extremely spare until the warmer middle section, which again features the cello. The first part of the movement returns and leads directly into the final Allegretto, which is formally more elusive. As the music grows, once more from simple beginnings, there are subtle hints of things past, but the climax is like nothing else in the work: a fragmented texture, first in pairs of quavers, then triplet quavers, then semiquavers. An increasingly wistful mood follows, and eventually both parts of the Adagio are recalled. The serene ending is suggestive of Dvorak at his warmest and most tender.
from notes - HUGH OTTAWAY, 1974 and 1976