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Thread: Shostakovich's String Quartets, a listening log

  1. #61
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    ...Anyway, enough technical talk and on to thejewk's final question. I can't say I particularly favor (or even favour) this piece. But it holds my interest, especially the way the ideas in the finale are subjected to an apparently inexhaustible series of variations, each subtly different expressively, and all answered and resolved by the final tonal versions in D-flat.
    I think that sums up my thoughts well, on reflection. I was certainly engaged by it, and as you said the final tonal version of the theme has a certain amount of satisfaction, but I can't say I find the themes particularly engaging. Now I'm listening to the thirteenth, I think I can safely say that the twelfth is my least favourite of the cycle, but far from a dud.

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    I've been listening to performances of the later quartets I hadn't heard before and in the process found these by the Jerusalem Quartet on youtube. These guys have consistently excellent interpretations and execution. Here is a link to the last one I listened to, the Tenth, one of my favorites. I think they did the whole cycle for the Chamber Music Society of New York:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syJy_0KNAOQ
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Jan-10-2021 at 17:22.

    Your frogs make me shudder with intolerable loathing and I shall be miserable for the rest of my life remembering them.
    — Mikhail Bulgakov, The Fatal Eggs

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    — Basil Valentine

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  5. #63
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    Yes, they are excellent. I've watched them a few times through now and thoroughly enjoyed them.

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    The Thirteenth Quartet, in one movement, is a rather dark and disturbing work, and removes almost all of the propulsive elements so common in writing for string quartets to create a general atmosphere of rarely disturbed stasis.

    It opens with a twelve tone row, similarly to the twelfth quartet, and is the first of a number used throughout the work, although not used in the same way as 'traditional' serialist music. Instead of being reversed, inversed, etc, this first row is used as a source of raw materials throughout the work that reminds me of the way Beethoven used and created his themes out of snatches of rhythm, or certain intervals. This opening is played on the viola, and then softly joined by the other instruments to create a floating and static, yet expressive and uncertain harmonic cloud. Lament like soft weeping is passed between the instruments, and occasionally the mood is augmented by a low and sonorous cello drone.

    At around the three minute mark, the two violins start to climb in an elevated wail, with the cello then launching into the upper register to commiserate with them. We then hear material from the first row played in the cello, and then the row is played in a mutated series of forms in unison. Highly effectively, this material is then punctuated with very staccato figures in the first violin, playing triplets. Soon after the violins and cello play a series of dynamic quiet to loud shouts with the viola offering a disconsolate commentary, until the other instruments begin reversing their dynamic tones, going now loud to quiet. The viola continues its triplet outbursts, but they quickly break down into my favourite section of the work.

    Pizzicato plucks quickly ping from one instrument to the other, and then the cello takes up a walking bass line like the clattering of bones. The violins play a folky feeling macabre dance, and the viola interjects a mournful but forceful descending scale, which is occasionally shared back and forth with the cello, before it takes back up it dance. This continues and is developed, as instruments are struck with the bow or hand to create hard cracking noises. Things build up in tempo and pitch occasionally, but no forward momentum results. Everything remains in stasis.

    The cello then expressively explores more material derived from the tone row that introduced the piece as things slow back down to the clouds of the beginning, but this time accompanied by the first violin's pizzicato triplets. These clouds re-emerge and disperse multiple times, varied with material from the twelve tone rows, creating tonally ambiguous swells.

    At around the 15 minute mark, the second violin bursts forth with what sounds to me very much like a quote from the eight quartet's fourth movement, but it is only a passing tonal similarity, I think. This signals a slight shift in mood, with the viola playing a rather beautiful melancholy song that ascends up the instrument with chords played as unison support, until all the other instruments drop out and the banging of wood returns as the only accompaniment. The viola climbs higher and higher until it is just a spectral whispering, and in a startling gesture the two violins, as a final shout in the darkness, play a final crescendo on the same note. This shout is greeted with silence.

    I have no real thoughts on which is the best performance, other than to say that minimal background noise is a priority in my opinion. The Fitzwilliams are superb, but I really appreciated the piece as played by the Jerusalem Quartet in the YouTube videos:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsHm...ChamberPlayers

    This is, in my opinion, one of Shostakovich's best quartets, and it joins 3, 7 and 10 as another top ranker.

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