Shostakovich; Auerbach String Quartets

A modern composer strongly identifies with Shostakovich’s sorrow and anger

Author: 
Arnold Whittall

Shostakovich; Auerbach String Quartets

  • String Quartet No. 8
  • (6) Marina Tsvetaeva Poems
  • String Quartet No 3, 'Cetera desunt'

Another recording of Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet, even when played by the excellent Petersen Quartet, won’t be high on most lists of priorities. Yet the context it is placed in here gives unusual point and purpose to the music’s searing blend of sorrow and anger. As always, however, it proves a hard act to follow.

Lera Auerbach’s quartet arrangement of the accompaniment to Shostakovich’s Six Poems by Marina Tsvetaeva (1973) – originally for piano, then arranged by the composer for chamber orchestra – works extremely well, and the deep feelings and passionate bitterness of the vocal writing are perfect for the vibrant Ukrainian mezzo Zoryana Kushpler. But what makes the work so telling is the fact that neither poetry nor music are concerned merely with personal emotions: the tragedy and turmoil of a nation’s social, political identity come through with equal vividness.

When we move on to Auerbach’s own Third Quartet, completed in 2006, such wider dimensions disappear. With its Latin title, “the rest is absent”, coming across like an allusion to Hamlet’s “the rest is silence”, the headings given to the eight short sections (which the composer refuses to discuss in her notes) seem to refer to a failed relationship. Feelings of anger and sorrow are vivid here, too, but – as in some of Auerbach’s other compositions – the absence of understatement makes it difficult for any genuine eloquence to shine through, well conceived for the medium though the music undoubtedly is. As throughout, the Petersen Quartet are ideally committed advocates, and the quality of the recording is outstanding.

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