SHOSTAKOVICH String Quartets
If Shostakovich's cycle of 15 symphonies can be said to represent a musical thread passing through the whole of the composer's public life, then it can be argued that his cycle of 15 string quartets represents the private persona of the man behind the mask from the beginning of his personal anguish in the late 1930s until his death in 1975. At the time of his First Quartet, composed in 1938, he was already an experienced and respected composer with five symphonies to his credit as well as much music for stage and film. But his sudden withdrawing of his Fourth Symphony and his artist's response in his Fifth Symphony had made the young revolutionary acutely aware of the precarious role of the creative artist in Stalin's Soviet Union. Thenceforth his symphonic music inscrutably presented the emotions—albeit largely ironically—that the State expected from its leading composer while the quartets provided an outlet for the emotions within and for his personal responses to the events taking place in the world around him.
If the music is rich in irony, then the language that Shostakovich uses is remarkably straightforward with a defined tonality, simple melodies, uncluttered rhythms and clear textures. Yet, there is only one possible composer, so recognizably individual is the voice. At the same time, the music is full of allusions—the motif D-E flat-C-B based on his initials DSCH is now common knowledge, as are the autobiographical self-quotations in the Eighth Quartet. But there are other recurring fingerprints—melodic motifs, rhythmic patterns, harmonic progressions—the secrets of which are perhaps known only to a handful of Shostakovich's oldest and closest friends. If they were ever to be revealed, then we would have a much more complete picture of Shostakovich the man.
With such a range of wonderful music, it is good to have two complete cycles of the string quartets on disc and both recorded by British Quartets. The Fitzwilliam Quartet recorded their cycle originally in the mid-1970s, shortly after a concentrated period of study with the composer. Nos. 4 and 12 won a
The music of Shostakovich is perhaps the most personal of any written in the twentieth century. For that reason, and because the quartets encompass the complete gamut of human emotion, one close friend of Shostakovich has described him as ''the Beethoven of our age''. The quartets are well worth getting to know and the performances by the Fitzwilliam Quartet, despite being 15 years old, still seem to reach the heart of the composer's intentions.'