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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

  1. #1276
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    The key to getting this quartet right, when I listen, is not to hammer through that 2nd movement. Of the accounts I've listened to up to now, the most successful have been hard-edged enough to convey the angst and struggle without sounding like they're trying to play as hard and fast as possible or underplaying it. It's a delicate balancing act.
    Last edited by Merl; Sep-14-2020 at 19:21.

  2. #1277
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Another glut of recordings for Shosty 8 and its the big hitters. I'll start with the first Borodin recording. My god, this is still is a stellar recording. Clear textures and an incredible clarity of line. This one's been at the apex of Shosty 8ths for some time and its hard to argue with its place at the head of the pack. Everything feels right with it. Superb on every level and faultless.
    Similarly the Fitzwilliam quartet play with assurance and are beautifully caught in this recording. For me the Fitwiliams have the advantage in the 2nd and 3rd movements and fire in their bellies but elsewhere the Borodins might have a slight edge. Another stunning recording.
    The Carducci quartet are technically superb and give a lovely, warm account of the quartet but perhaps without the requisite strength that the two previous quartets offer. Its a lovely account but in comparison to what I just heard its just not got the white hot intensity of the Borodins or Fitzwilliam.
    Whilst the Carduccis may not have the requisite power I'm looking for the Mandelring Quartet have it in abundance. This is a thrilling performance enlivened by state of the art sonics and and a finely judged and pacey account. This one lives with the very best and is a joy from beginning to end. True, its final moments aren't as dark as others but there's many ways to play these quartets and the Mandelring do capture real deep emotion. A stunning recording.
    The Emerson Quartet bring out the tension and darkness in the work with huge aplomb. Strings fizz and collide in the middle movements and theres a sense of palpable fury in the faster movements that is hard to ignore. Another great recording that revels in its gritty bleakness and angst.
    The St Lawrence forces give a rough-sawn view of the quartet that is very engaging and the slightly brilliant recording adds earthiness. It's an impressive performance but others here have a slight edge and I'm not always convinced that the St Lawrence's are really plumbing the depths of despair towards the end but this is exceptionally fine playing.
    Finally today, the Hagen Quartet have a slightly more blended approach but equally as valid. Their ensemble playing is simply magnificent and their phrasing and use of dynamics are an absolute delight throughout. I doubt I've heard the final movement played as solemnly or achingly as this. Gorgeous.
    Last edited by Merl; Sep-15-2020 at 00:20.

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  4. #1278
    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bwv 1080 View Post
    But the knocks arent Nazi Germany, but Stalin's NKVD.
    I don't see how that changes what I said; in any case, it's no more speculative to assume it's supposed to be one or the other, unless Shostakovich is on record somewhere saying that that was what he was trying to evoke with that motif (Volkov's Testimony doesn't count).
    Last edited by flamencosketches; Sep-15-2020 at 12:00.

  5. #1279
    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    I don't see how that changes what I said; in any case, it's no more speculative to assume it's supposed to be one or the other, unless Shostakovich is on record somewhere saying that that was what he was trying to evoke with that motif (Volkov's Testimony doesn't count).
    I happen to think Volkov’s portrait was accurate even if some of the details were sketchy. Hard to believe Dsch lived through the Great Terror as close as he was to it, without it having an impact on the work

    He 8th SQ is not just a piece of absolute music that can be listened to like Bach
    Last edited by Bwv 1080; Sep-15-2020 at 14:40.

  6. #1280
    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    ^ IMO that puts the value of the music down a peg or two. But it is also probably not true!

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  8. #1281
    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    ^ IMO that puts the value of the music down a peg or two. But it is also probably not true!
    I would agree (were it true). Anyway I've not made up my mind just yet, but it's clear that some string quartets, at least, seem to play the 8th SQ with that programmatic notion in mind.

    @BWV1080, I definitely agree that Stalin's Great Terror had an impact on his work, but I'm not sure that impact took the form of programmatic music. Maybe so, I'd have to think about it more, but I'm not entirely convinced. If we were alive in the 19th century, Enthusiast and I would have sided with the Brahms camp Maybe my allergy to programmatic music is not such a good thing.
    Last edited by flamencosketches; Sep-16-2020 at 00:42.

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  10. #1282
    Senior Member Iota's Avatar
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    Have been listening to the Shostakovich 8 with the Fitwilliam Quartet, which is my preferred version I think. Though I also know the Pacifica and Shostakovich recordings and probably prefer the Pacifica's grotesquely cartoonish 3rd movement, which works really well in a movement that feels like it performs a kind of scherzo role. It feels intensely coherent as a work, the almost obsessive appearances of the DSCH theme going some way in achieving that, as well as in a way I think, ironically making it feel as if it might fall apart at any time.

    On the programmatic-or-not question, I'm quite happy hearing it either way, though I feel from what I know, the evidence seems to point to an autobiographical angle, the victims of fascism dedication being a pragmatic one to appease the authorities. But either way, it retains an highly personal feel.

    I find it remarkable he wrote it in three days whilst also working on a film score! Ideas seemed to force themselves up almost unceasingly from some inner magma chamber in him throughout his life. A will to compose that survived such traumatic pressures must have been an extraordinarily robust thing, as well as perhaps being a lifebelt for his sanity.

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  12. #1283
    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    I would agree (were it true). Anyway I've not made up my mind just yet, but it's clear that some string quartets, at least, seem to play the 8th SQ with that programmatic notion in mind.

    @BWV1080, I definitely agree that Stalin's Great Terror had an impact on his work, but I'm not sure that impact took the form of programmatic music. Maybe so, I'd have to think about it more, but I'm not entirely convinced. If we were alive in the 19th century, Enthusiast and I would have sided with the Brahms camp Maybe my allergy to programmatic music is not such a good thing.
    Also worth noting that Mahler, no stranger to programmatic music, was a primary influence on DSCH

  13. #1284
    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    Perhaps the question is not one of whether or not a piece has a programme but whether the music stands up without whatever scaffold the composer did or didn't use to produce it. In any case my understanding of the creative process suggests to me that for many artists much that goes into a work is not conscious to them. I am not even sure that a masterpiece can ever be produced by following a conscious plan or programme.

  14. #1285
    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    Perhaps the question is not one of whether or not a piece has a programme but whether the music stands up without whatever scaffold the composer did or didn't use to produce it. In any case my understanding of the creative process suggests to me that for many artists much that goes into a work is not conscious to them. I am not even sure that a masterpiece can ever be produced by following a conscious plan or programme.
    I think you’d rob Shosty from his deeply felt pain if you were to claim the music has no connection or no abstract programme at all. Abstract programme - it doesn’t have to be a programme which could be put into words. The expressiveness of music largely lies in its power to “materialise” emotions in the form of sound waves. I see Shosty’s 8th as similar non-programme programme music as Nielsen’s “Det Uudslukkelige” which was meant to describe underlying emotions of real human experiences, not meant to describe the experiences themselves. Nielsen said that “music, even with all its resources, cannot even express the very simplest concepts of yes or no”. We don’t have to talk about a specific programme but its atmosphere which is certainly influenced by the society. Shostakovich’s contemporaries in different life situations didn’t write similarly agitated music but Shostakovich did and I think there’s a very clear reason why he did.
    Last edited by annaw; Sep-16-2020 at 14:06.

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  16. #1286
    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    I'm sick at home and decided to work through some Shosty 8 recordings today. Some of them overlap with those which Merl has already reviewed (Borodin 1, Hagen, Fitzwilliam) but I'm going to post my thoughts about the ones which don't overlap:

    Borodin 2nd - This is my imprint. The textures of the first movement are well realised again but aren't as flowing or pure as in Borodin's 1st recording. It's also a bit more... pessimistic interpretation-wise because of some notes being more forcefully accented in the slower movements. The tempos of particularly last two movements are a bit slower. In overall, it's strikes me more pessimistic and dark compared to Borodin's 1 recording. The sound is very full, though, and I really like the recording.

    Kronos - The quartet sounds very beautiful and the tone is rich and full. I also quite enjoyed many of their dynamic choices and occasional "expansions" of sound (in the 1st mvt for example). The second movement is very fast and aggressive - I'm not entirely sure what I think of it. The same case with the third movement where I think the phrasing needs a bit more time to come really through and breath. I generally love brisk playing a lot but this is almost rushed. I liked the last movement, though, which was played with beautiful vibrato.

    Beethoven - These fellows premiered the quartet. The first movement is played with deep feeling, although the sound is weird (kind of like projected into my head lol) and boxy. The second movement is quick but it's also so huge, powerful and fiery that it doesn't sound mechanic. The third movement retains its dancing rhythms and motifs - I feel it's just a better realisation of the same thing Kronos was trying to achieve because both are quick but this one doesn't sound rushed. The penultimate Largo is very serene and beautiful. A wonderful interpretation!

    A quick philosophical digression from the recordings. After listening to the Borodins' and the Beethoven's recordings, which are undoubtedly the nearest thing to a realisation Shostakovich's intentions for this quartet, I think the quartet is not meant to convey deep hatred or aggressiveness. I think it's sad and melancholic with occasional serene and peaceful moments. It's thought-through and almost introverted. So, rather than depicting the Soviet Union or fascists, I think it depicts Shostakovich's reaction to them. I start feeling that he hid his views behind the abstractness of music as the other less abstract ways of communicating them were forbidden to him.

    Borodin (live) - Another Borodin! Again, very thought-through interpretation. The playing provides some interesting insights and uses tempo and dynamics rather effectively, in my opinion. The interpretation resembles the forcefulness of Borodin 2 more than it resembles the refined Borodin 1, although it seems to be somewhere in the middle. I feel it's quicker than the studio recording but IIRC the slower interpretation of Borodin 2 was a result of new players in the quartet. There's not much to say - another marvellous Shosty from Borodin.

    Talich - This is quite a shocking interpretation. The first movement is beautiful and somewhat introverted. Then there's the second movement which is played with an absolutely crushing tempo. But it's quite unbelievable how well the second movement is executed and sounds therefore very virtuosic. The third movement isn't as breathless though and remains playful. The last movement wasn't particularly dark but it was intense nevertheless. The skilfulness of playing makes this a particularly enjoyable in my opinion.

    Some of my opinions of these recordings are based on what I thought of the 2nd and 3rd movements because those seem to be the riskiest ones which get interpreted very differently. Of course some quartets were outstanding in the slower movements (I liked Hagen for example) but there was less risk-taking with those.
    Last edited by annaw; Sep-16-2020 at 18:24.

  17. #1287
    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by annaw View Post
    I think you’d rob Shosty from his deeply felt pain if you were to claim the music has no connection or no abstract programme at all. Abstract programme - it doesn’t have to be a programme which could be put into words. The expressiveness of music largely lies in its power to “materialise” emotions in the form of sound waves. I see Shosty’s 8th as similar non-programme programme music as Nielsen’s “Det Uudslukkelige” which was meant to describe underlying emotions of real human experiences, not meant to describe the experiences themselves. Nielsen said that “music, even with all its resources, cannot even express the very simplest concepts of yes or no”. We don’t have to talk about a specific programme but its atmosphere which is certainly influenced by the society. Shostakovich’s contemporaries in different life situations didn’t write similarly agitated music but Shostakovich did and I think there’s a very clear reason why he did.
    OK but what I was saying (or trying to!) was that a conscious plan/programme might not be so relevant as much of the inspiration that goes into a piece may not be consciously known to the composer - even though they will inevitably draw on what life has done to him (or her). The thing that gets me about the piece is that it seems in some ways to be backward looking. It is quite a late work (1960 - seven years after the 10th symphony) but seems (in some performances more than others) sometimes to use a language that Shostakovich had been moving away from for some time. So, it is believable to me that he sought to process memories in the piece or that the piece represents an important transition towards his late style.

    I am not sure what you mean by saying that the music is more agitated than that of other composers of the time. Agitated music had been a fairly common feature of the contemporary scene from Bartok onward but by 1960 few active composers had lived through the very grim 30s and 40s and were perhaps less coloured by the events of that period. But I think the more distinctive parts of the quartet are rather intense in a slightly grim rather than agitated way. Three of the five movements are marked Largo. The Allegro Molto is certainly agitated but it is very brief and I find the Allegretto that follows it more sardonic than restless. I really do think we belittle Shostakovich's achievement here by reducing it to a programme. I agree that such a programme might not be describable in words. But, then, what does it mean to say it has a programme at all?

  18. #1288
    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    OK but what I was saying (or trying to!) was that a conscious plan/programme might not be so relevant as much of the inspiration that goes into a piece may not be consciously known to the composer - even though they will inevitably draw on what life has done to him (or her). The thing that gets me about the piece is that it seems in some ways to be backward looking. It is quite a late work (1960 - seven years after the 10th symphony) but seems (in some performances more than others) sometimes to use a language that Shostakovich had been moving away from for some time. So, it is believable to me that he sought to process memories in the piece or that the piece represents an important transition towards his late style.
    I get that and I think I agree, although I'm not a composer, so I really cannot know. I was just trying to say that the programme itself doesn't need to be perfectly conscious. I think most great pieces, in absolute music as well, mean to express something. For programmatic music, programme is important. Whether Shosty 8 is traditionally programmatic, I don't know. It's thematic rather than programmatic.

    I am not sure what you mean by saying that the music is more agitated than that of other composers of the time. Agitated music had been a fairly common feature of the contemporary scene from Bartok onward but by 1960 few active composers had lived through the very grim 30s and 40s and were perhaps less coloured by the events of that period. But I think the more distinctive parts of the quartet are rather intense in a slightly grim rather than agitated way. Three of the five movements are marked Largo. The Allegro Molto is certainly agitated but it is very brief and I find the Allegretto that follows it more sardonic than restless. I really do think we belittle Shostakovich's achievement here by reducing it to a programme. I agree that such a programme might not be describable in words. But, then, what does it mean to say it has a programme at all?
    I'm not trying to reduce it to a programme but I am simply saying that I don't think it had a typical programme - I think Merl described a possible "emotion" programme rather well earlier. However, there must be a reason why Shostakovich said it has a theme and ignoring that theme doesn't let us evaluate an interpretation fairly. If someone played it so that it strikes light and happy, you wouldn't be able to say that it shouldn't be so. Your opinion would be entirely subjective. If I acknowledge its theme, I can say that it's highly likely that Shostakovich didn't mean it to be performed as 20 minutes of pure joyfulness. The interpretation wouldn't be truthful to the piece. It's still subjective but this time grounded on something relatively objective. Interestingly, it has also been suggested that the quartet was actually written in memory of the bombing of Dresden. Shostakovich had been forced to join the communist party and during that period his health started to decline. I cannot imagine that at least some of it is not projected onto an interpretation just through pure emotions.

    Let me correct myself. I meant that very few other composers seemed to be so strongly influenced by their surrounding society. Shostakovich's agitation didn't take its form only as Allegros and Prestos, it can be heard in the Largos, in his Allegrettos. I would say that Bartok's restlessness is different from Shostakovich's but as I said somewhere earlier in this thread, I think this has to do with my own interpretation as well.
    Last edited by annaw; Sep-16-2020 at 16:21.

  19. #1289
    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    ^ Oh yes: the piece definitely has a mood and is definitely very distinctively by Shostakovich. I would even risk saying that that it is a product of a combination of its composer's life experience and musical character. And I am quite comfortable with the idea that Shostakovich set out to write the work that he did actually write - for such an experienced composer, how could it be otherwise?

    We are, of course, agreeing for the most part and having a conversation about a work we love. We have noted that different performances find different things in it (but do not go completely against the nature of the work!!!). And along the way we have both ditched any simplistic idea of a literal historically-based programme.

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  21. #1290
    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    ^ Oh yes: the piece definitely has a mood and is definitely very distinctively by Shostakovich. I would even risk saying that that it is a product of a combination of its composer's life experience and musical character. And I am quite comfortable with the idea that Shostakovich set out to write the work that he did actually write - for such an experienced composer, how could it be otherwise?

    We are, of course, agreeing for the most part and having a conversation about a work we love. We have noted that different performances find different things in it (but do not go completely against the nature of the work!!!). And along the way we have both ditched any simplistic idea of a literal historically-based programme.
    I think we're largely in an agreement as well. I don't know why I had to go so far to realise that .

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