Shostakovich String Quartet 15. Gubaidulina Rejoice!
The background to Sofia Gubaidulina's
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.
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).
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.'