Shostakovich String Quartet 15. Gubaidulina Rejoice!

Author: 
Guest

Shostakovich String Quartet 15. Gubaidulina Rejoice!

  • String Quartet No. 15
  • Rejoice!

The background to Sofia Gubaidulina's Rejoice!, as Laurel Fay's sleeve-note informs us, is in the spiritual lessons of Grigory Skovoroda, an eighteenth-century Ukrainian philosopher and religious thinker. These supply the sub-titles (rather Messiaen-like in resonance) of each of the five movements. The composer herself cautions, ''It should not be assumed that I wanted to illustrate the theme of joy in my music… the religious theme is experienced metaphorically''. It is meant to be experienced musically as well, through the juxtaposition of 'normal' sounds and harmonics: ''The possibility for string instruments to derive pitches of various heights at one and the same place on the string can be experienced in music as the transition to another plane of existence. And that is joy.''
That's all very promising. But 30 minutes is a long time to sustain and examine such a concept. It's a long time to sustain any piece for violin and cello alone, come to think of it, and if the musical invention should prove in any way deficient all those fine intentions would then count for nothing.
Rejoice! is certainly not short of atmospheric ideas. The opening violin meditation (''Your joy no one will take away from you'') gently evokes a stillness in the mind; the passionate cantillation at the outset of ''Rejoice Ravvi'' is as striking as the cadenza formulas and later the ritualistic harmonics which renew interest in this long third movement. But the more sophisticated listener may note a tendency to fall back on crude expressionistic tirades when heightened emotion is called for, or on a kind of tortured greyness in between more direct statements, and my own feeling is that Rejoice! does not have quite the range of expression to sustain its length; nor is it as musically resourceful as Ligeti and Lutoslawski, to whose textures it pays tribute. Still, there are certainly many impressive moments, the whole conception is patently sincere, and Kremer and Ma perform with mastery and dedication. Recording quality is rich and clear, but captures some traffic noise inimical to the contemplative state the music demands.
Shostakovich's last quartet is a bold and thought-provoking coupling—another lengthy slow-moving, introspective piece (its six slow movements probably inspired by the example of Boris Chaikovsky's Third Quartet, incidentally). Despair! might be an appropriate sub-title were that state of mind not so obvious anyway. The players have somehow to call up the blackest images and then suppress them, they have to play as though with their thoughts elsewhere and yet with no loss of control, to enter regions where time is frozen. In all this Kremer and his colleagues succeed admirably, although perhaps because this is a public performance they make slight concessions to conventional expressiveness which they might not allow if playing just for themselves—nuances creep into the blank opening ''Elegy'' and in the excruciating ''Serenade'' the second violin cannot resist adding a vibrato his partners ruthlessly avoid. On the whole though, the music can take the intensity these fine musicians bring to it and the overall impression is moving and convincing. The recording was made in a different venue, but traffic noise once again obtrudes.
As the listed comparisons indicate, the young Brodsky Quartet have some pretty formidable competition lined up against them, and the coupling of Beethoven and Shostakovich, under the cutesy title ''Endgames'', proves not so very illuminating. Some aspects of their Beethoven are a little disappointing, but their Shostakovich is impressive. The shrieks in the ''Serenade'' are more unanimous than Kremer and Co's (at least at first—some later appearances are not perfectly matched) and they achieve a more chilling sffff than the Borodins (on EMI). The ''Funeral March'' opens with startling depth of sound and the whole movement has an extra weightiness appropriate to its place in the overall scheme it is slower than marked, but this is after all the only adagio molto in the work. The Brodskys also find more imaginative shadings for such things as the drop to pianissimo at fig. 17 in the ''Elegy'' (8'05'')—though I wish the hushed quality could have been sustained to and through the following cello solo. Occasionally there are small individual failings to offset the special insights, but these only really show up in direct comparisons with the rival versions. All three interpretations have their own capacity to move indeed to appal, the fact that the Borodin's is the least overtly expressive does not imply it is any further from the heart of the music. Teldec's recording quality for the Brodskys is undoubtedly the finest of the three.
The Beethoven Op. 135 is admirably done too, but there are reasons to hesitate longer in this instance before placing the Brodskys on a level with their distinguished rivals. Intonation is occasionally fallible, right from the fourth bar in fact—not more so than the Vegh Quartet (Auvidis Valois/Pinnacle), but without the compensations of the latter's wisdom and profundity. The first movement transition theme (0'46'', and again 3'47'') could be addressed more sympathetically harmony does not always dictate nuance in a convincing manner, the slow movement has some minor indecisions which make it seem more halting than profound, and the turn to A major in the finale (1'36'' and again 2'35'') could have been more subtly negotiated. Little things, but they detract significantly from the overall impression.
I would not be inclined to prefer the Alban Berg Quartet (on EMI)—they are more polished certainly, but they never convey what is at stake in human terms. Half speed is surely indefensible for piu lento in the slow movement, though the Alban Bergs and the Guarneris (on Philips) clearly do not think so. The Guarneris give the impression of having lived longer with the music, though they do not plumb the depths of the Veghs. If the latter's small but recurrent intonation problems are too much to live with, the Italians (on mid-price Philips) offer a deeply satisfying compromise, with a particularly engaging lolloping scherzo.'

Gramophone Subscriptions

From£67/year

Gramophone Print

Gramophone Print

no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Reviews

Gramophone Reviews

no Print Edition
no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Digital Edition

Gramophone Digital Edition

no Print Edition
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe

If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.

© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2018