Fitzwilliam String Quartet - Shostakovich: Last Three String Quartets - Europadisc

The phrase ‘self-recommending’ is often used too readily for recordings in these days of technical and sonic perfection, but just occasionally there are releases that justify the epithet, where technique, recording and fundamental musicality come together in perfect harmony. And that certainly applies to two dazzling new releases of Shostakovich string quartets from two groups playing at the peak of their game.

Nor should any serious admirer of Shostakovich’s string quartets overlook the 50th anniversary recording from the Fitzwilliam String Quartet. Viola player Alan George is the only surviving member of the group’s original line-up, but he provides a direct link to the composer himself: his vivid and extensive booklet notes for the FSQ’s remarkable new accounts of the last three string quartets (1970-74) include reminiscences of the ensemble’s contacts with Shostakovich, including a lovely photo of Shostakovich and George together in York. The musicians themselves may not have Russian or Slavic pedigree, but their playing is steeped in knowledge of the Russian tradition, and their playing in these works, which they were among the first to champion in the West, with the composer’s blessing, has a unique authority and tradition behind it. Their complete cycle on Decca remains a benchmark, but their latest thoughts on these late masterpieces are unmissable, showing an even greater depth and responsiveness, every phrase and note, every percussive stroke, carefully weighted, every tempo inflection and nuance of phrasing brilliantly judged. Few other groups uncover quite so much variety or subtlety of inflection in the bold succession of Adagios that make up what turned out to be Shostakovich’s final quartet, the Fifteenth. But this is a group as much at home in Haydn as it is in Shostakovich, and that depth and breadth of experience stands them in excellent stead here, as do Philip Hobbs’ production and engineering skills for Linn Records. Just as much as the PHQ single disc, this 2-disc set is required listening for any lover of this music. Self-recommending indeed!

25 October 2019