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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have been going through a string quartet phase and I love my 2cd collection by the Borodin Quartet of Shostakovich's 2,3,7,8,12 quartets. I would like to hear more of his quartets and further interpretations of them.

What are considered his greatest quartets and some essential recordings of them?

Thanks!
 

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For me, the greatest of Shostakovich's string quartets are Nos 3, 5, 8-10, 12 and 13. For many the recordings by the Borodin Quartet are matchless and I'd say you really can't go far wrong with their recordings. They recorded quartets 1-13 in 1967-71 (ie before the 14th and 15th quartets were written) and then (with a slightly different line-up) again (all 15 this time) in 1978-83. Either one is magnificent.
 

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I have sets by the Fitzwilliam SQ and the Pacifica SQ. The Pacifica set also includes a number of string quartets by other Russian composers. Both are excellent in my opinion. I read Wendy Lesser's book "Music For Silenced Voices" while listening along to each of the 15. That was very enjoyable and revealing. For me at least.
 

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The Fitzwilliam Quartet's cycle is also outstanding, and very well recorded by Decca in the 1970's. They premiered the last three quartets in the UK and had personal connections with the composer.

As to favourite quartets, I especially like No. 3, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 but all, except maybe the first two, are more than worthwhile listening.
 

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For me, the greatest of Shostakovich's string quartets are Nos 3, 5, 8-10, 12 and 13. For many the recordings by the Borodin Quartet are matchless and I'd say you really can't go far wrong with their recordings. They recorded quartets 1-13 in 1967-71 (ie before the 14th and 15th quartets were written) and then (with a slightly different line-up) again (all 15 this time) in 1978-83. Either one is magnificent.
The original Borodin added 14 and 15 and the complete set was reissued a few years later and is still available. Agree that their performances are great. No others I have heard compare.

My special favorites are 5, 10, and 4. But I like them all, except that 8 has never really appealed to me. I just find the biographical element, the quotations, and the signature motive annoying and distracting.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
For me, the greatest of Shostakovich's string quartets are Nos 3, 5, 8-10, 12 and 13. For many the recordings by the Borodin Quartet are matchless and I'd say you really can't go far wrong with their recordings. They recorded quartets 1-13 in 1967-71 (ie before the 14th and 15th quartets were written) and then (with a slightly different line-up) again (all 15 this time) in 1978-83. Either one is magnificent.
@Delicious Manager
I looked at my double cd of 2,3,7,8,12 on Erato by the Borodin Quartet and it says they were recorded in 1990. Did they only record these specific quartets for this recording session or are there the rest on other cds? How would you say these 1990 recordings measure up against the 1967-71 and 1978-83 sessions you mentioned?

I think I will try the 1967-71 set next when I have the money as the 1978-83 is £40!
 

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@Delicious Manager
I looked at my double cd of 2,3,7,8,12 on Erato by the Borodin Quartet and it says they were recorded in 1990. Did they only record these specific quartets for this recording session or are there the rest on other cds? How would you say these 1990 recordings measure up against the 1967-71 and 1978-83 sessions you mentioned?

I think I will try the 1967-71 set next when I have the money as the 1978-83 is £40!
If you can afford it, get Melodiya 74321 40711 2 - This contains all of the quartets with the original lineup. It also includes the Piano Quintet with Sviatoslav Richter and two pieces for string octet. The 1967-71 recordings don't have 14 and 15.
 

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I've listened to the Shostakovich quartets frequently enough over the decades to have worked out a list of favorites to help prevent me from listening to those quartets that I don't like much-groups of works numbering more than nine tend to confuse me, so I need a list separating the sheep from the goats …

#5, #13 ~ solid favorites
#7, #8 ~ borderline favorites
#3, #12 ~ limbo/pergatory
#4, #9 ~ non-favorites on the whole with some favorite aspects or individual movements
#10, #11 ~ non-favorites
#1, #2, #6, #14, #15 ~ anti-favorites

I also have a list of long-standing favorite recordings that serves me well enough …

#3 - Borodin I [Melodiya/Chandos '67]
#4 - Borodin I [Melodiya/Chandos '67]
#5 - Borodin II [Melodiya '83] or Atrium Quartet [Zig-Zag '08]
#7 - Borodin I [Melodiya/Chandos '67]
#8 - Borodin [Decca '62]
#9 - Shostakovich [Olympia '85]
#12 - Beethoven [Melodiya '69]
#13 - Shostakovich [Olympia '80] or Beethoven [Melodiya '71]
To the above, I would add the Hagen Quartett [DG '05] recordings of #3, #7 & #8 as the most different and interesting alternatives that I like.

#3 was initially presented as a "war quartet" with subtitles for each movement: "Calm unawareness of the future cataclysm"; "Rumblings of unrest and anticipation"; "The forces of war are unleashed"; "Homage to the dead"; and "The eternal question: why and to what purpose?" This program was quickly retracted, but it does, superficially, at least, fit the music pretty well and provide quick entry into the work. Borodin I is my reference here, even if I'm not quite sure what I think about the conspicuously slow pace of the Adagio (where I prefer the stern, unlingering approach of the Beethoven Quartet [Melodiya '65]).

#4 is included for the radiant opening (which sounds like a Hebrew bagpiper welcoming the sunrise after an Orkney bar mitzvah) and for the bizarre final movement (which sounds like the Hebrew/Klezmer counterpart to an Irish wake). Oy. Borodin I is the only one that nails these aspects of the work.

#5 calls for manly, authoritative playing of great rhetorical eloquence to properly put across the big-boned formal structure of the Sonata-Allegro first movement (widely regarded as Shostakovich's finest sonata-based movement in any work), and it also requires that the playing be pushed to its absolute stress limits within that formal context. What's more, the work's very "Russian"-sounding themes had better sound like they just barely survived the long Siberian winter shacked up with Julie Christie. Borodin II is superb here, with the first violinist sounding as stressed/distressed in the first movement as humanly possible. The Atrium Quartet gives a similarly conceived but slightly less stressed account in richer, better-balanced sound.

#7 is brief but elusively multifarious, as the first movement requires nervous energy and a certain folk-y Russian charm, the touchy/tenuous minimalist slow movement requires great refinement and something of an icy but delicate magic touch, while the final movement requires the utmost in fuguish virtuosity here and lilting waltzing grace there. The Hagen Quartett rejects all that and simply executes the hell out of it from beginning to end, treating Shostakovich less like a long-suffering nephew of Doctor Zhivago and more like a modernist Webern disciple-it shouldn't work, but it's played so well that it sort of does work. If it's not the Seventh of my mind's ear, it's pretty compelling in its own right, and it gives the Allegro fugue of the last movement the absolute ride of its life. Borodin I, on the other hand, is pretty close to the Seventh of my mind's ear; I especially like the way the group allows secondary voices that are often relegated to an underlying murmur in the slow movement to have more presence and impact than usual.

#8's directly expressive and repetitive nature requires great rhetorical eloquence and unflagging focus and concentration to keep me engaged, and that's what the '60s-era Borodin Quartet is all about-the one-off 1962 Decca account edges out the 1967 Melodiya. The Hagen Quartet is once again interesting in its relentlessly high-strung modernist sort of way.

#9 is included for its everything-including-the-kitchen-sink final movement, which must be played in the bold no-holds-barred manner that the Shostakovich Quartet (and no other quartet that I've heard) plays it for it to come off well.

#12 embeds the awkward tonality of D-flat major into the work's pseudo-serial DNA to create an uncomfortable hybrid that, if you're like me and highly susceptible to suggestion, sounds tonal if someone authoritative tells you it's tonal. The tonality sort of drifts in and out of focus to my tin ear-until, that is, the very end of the work, when it's presented clearly and unambiguously in what passes for a happy/triumphant ending in Shostakovich's musical world (sounding a hell of a lot like the end of Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" concerto in the process, as one commentator rightly notes). The work is rugged and decidedly abstract (a rarity in Shostakovich's output), with a desolate, primitive feel about it much of the time. It's a tough work to bring together and make "click," but the Beethoven Quartet does an admirable job of it in their etched and unsentimental yet poetic way.

#13, like #12, is an uncomfortable tonal-serial hybrid (this time in B-flat minor), but here it's cast in one long morphing arch of death-obsessed grimness and grotesquery revolving around the viola. The grimly subdued outer sections enclose a rather mocking and derisive dance of death for arthritic skeletons (the sick Shostakovich giving Death the finger, I should think). A number of groups provide the requisite focus and concentration to pull off this work, but it's the Shostakovich Quartet that best relates the various sections and ties everything together, and it does so in the most fluid and continuous (least episodic) way. The Beethoven Quartet's instruments are strung with the raw nerves of your dead ancestors, and its piercing playing penetrates straight to the spine like fingernails scraping a blackboard-it ain't pretty, but it's pretty compelling.
 

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I have been going through a string quartet phase and I love my 2cd collection by the Borodin Quartet of Shostakovich's 2,3,7,8,12 quartets. I would like to hear more of his quartets and further interpretations of them.

What are considered his greatest quartets and some essential recordings of them?

Thanks!
I also have that double.Of course many of the Borodin Qt. purists thumb their noses at it. To hell with 'em, it's more than serviceable, and contains probably the five best.

That said, for sets I like Fitzwilliam (Decca), Shostakovich (Regis), and ESQ (DG). The helluva buy aka cheap is the Shostakovich. Cheers! :tiphat:
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
I've listened to the Shostakovich quartets frequently enough over the decades to have worked out a list of favorites to help prevent me from listening to those quartets that I don't like much-groups of works numbering more than nine tend to confuse me, so I need a list separating the sheep from the goats …

#5, #13 ~ solid favorites
#7, #8 ~ borderline favorites
#3, #12 ~ limbo/pergatory
#4, #9 ~ non-favorites on the whole with some favorite aspects or individual movements
#10, #11 ~ non-favorites
#1, #2, #6, #14, #15 ~ anti-favorites

I also have a list of long-standing favorite recordings that serves me well enough …

#3 - Borodin I [Melodiya/Chandos '67]
#4 - Borodin I [Melodiya/Chandos '67]
#5 - Borodin II [Melodiya '83] or Atrium Quartet [Zig-Zag '08]
#7 - Borodin I [Melodiya/Chandos '67]
#8 - Borodin [Decca '62]
#9 - Shostakovich [Olympia '85]
#12 - Beethoven [Melodiya '69]
#13 - Shostakovich [Olympia '80] or Beethoven [Melodiya '71]
To the above, I would add the Hagen Quartett [DG '05] recordings of #3, #7 & #8 as the most different and interesting alternatives that I like.

#3 was initially presented as a "war quartet" with subtitles for each movement: "Calm unawareness of the future cataclysm"; "Rumblings of unrest and anticipation"; "The forces of war are unleashed"; "Homage to the dead"; and "The eternal question: why and to what purpose?" This program was quickly retracted, but it does, superficially, at least, fit the music pretty well and provide quick entry into the work. Borodin I is my reference here, even if I'm not quite sure what I think about the conspicuously slow pace of the Adagio (where I prefer the stern, unlingering approach of the Beethoven Quartet [Melodiya '65]).

#4 is included for the radiant opening (which sounds like a Hebrew bagpiper welcoming the sunrise after an Orkney bar mitzvah) and for the bizarre final movement (which sounds like the Hebrew/Klezmer counterpart to an Irish wake). Oy. Borodin I is the only one that nails these aspects of the work.

#5 calls for manly, authoritative playing of great rhetorical eloquence to properly put across the big-boned formal structure of the Sonata-Allegro first movement (widely regarded as Shostakovich's finest sonata-based movement in any work), and it also requires that the playing be pushed to its absolute stress limits within that formal context. What's more, the work's very "Russian"-sounding themes had better sound like they just barely survived the long Siberian winter shacked up with Julie Christie. Borodin II is superb here, with the first violinist sounding as stressed/distressed in the first movement as humanly possible. The Atrium Quartet gives a similarly conceived but slightly less stressed account in richer, better-balanced sound.

#7 is brief but elusively multifarious, as the first movement requires nervous energy and a certain folk-y Russian charm, the touchy/tenuous minimalist slow movement requires great refinement and something of an icy but delicate magic touch, while the final movement requires the utmost in fuguish virtuosity here and lilting waltzing grace there. The Hagen Quartett rejects all that and simply executes the hell out of it from beginning to end, treating Shostakovich less like a long-suffering nephew of Doctor Zhivago and more like a modernist Webern disciple-it shouldn't work, but it's played so well that it sort of does work. If it's not the Seventh of my mind's ear, it's pretty compelling in its own right, and it gives the Allegro fugue of the last movement the absolute ride of its life. Borodin I, on the other hand, is pretty close to the Seventh of my mind's ear; I especially like the way the group allows secondary voices that are often relegated to an underlying murmur in the slow movement to have more presence and impact than usual.

#8's directly expressive and repetitive nature requires great rhetorical eloquence and unflagging focus and concentration to keep me engaged, and that's what the '60s-era Borodin Quartet is all about-the one-off 1962 Decca account edges out the 1967 Melodiya. The Hagen Quartet is once again interesting in its relentlessly high-strung modernist sort of way.

#9 is included for its everything-including-the-kitchen-sink final movement, which must be played in the bold no-holds-barred manner that the Shostakovich Quartet (and no other quartet that I've heard) plays it for it to come off well.

#12 embeds the awkward tonality of D-flat major into the work's pseudo-serial DNA to create an uncomfortable hybrid that, if you're like me and highly susceptible to suggestion, sounds tonal if someone authoritative tells you it's tonal. The tonality sort of drifts in and out of focus to my tin ear-until, that is, the very end of the work, when it's presented clearly and unambiguously in what passes for a happy/triumphant ending in Shostakovich's musical world (sounding a hell of a lot like the end of Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" concerto in the process, as one commentator rightly notes). The work is rugged and decidedly abstract (a rarity in Shostakovich's output), with a desolate, primitive feel about it much of the time. It's a tough work to bring together and make "click," but the Beethoven Quartet does an admirable job of it in their etched and unsentimental yet poetic way.

#13, like #12, is an uncomfortable tonal-serial hybrid (this time in B-flat minor), but here it's cast in one long morphing arch of death-obsessed grimness and grotesquery revolving around the viola. The grimly subdued outer sections enclose a rather mocking and derisive dance of death for arthritic skeletons (the sick Shostakovich giving Death the finger, I should think). A number of groups provide the requisite focus and concentration to pull off this work, but it's the Shostakovich Quartet that best relates the various sections and ties everything together, and it does so in the most fluid and continuous (least episodic) way. The Beethoven Quartet's instruments are strung with the raw nerves of your dead ancestors, and its piercing playing penetrates straight to the spine like fingernails scraping a blackboard-it ain't pretty, but it's pretty compelling.
@Dirge
Great post thanks very much!
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
I also have that double.Of course many of the Borodin Qt. purists thumb their noses at it. To hell with 'em, it's more than serviceable, and contains probably the five best.

That said, for sets I like Fitzwilliam (Decca), Shostakovich (Regis), and ESQ (DG). The helluva buy aka cheap is the Shostakovich. Cheers! :tiphat:
@Vaneyes
Thanks!!
 

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I thought I'd post this link. It's a great Shostakovich String Quartet reference site. Not sure if it's been posted before. Apologies if it has.

http://www.quartets.de/
Heartily second this. The site is my go-to for learning about the DSCH quartets. I copied the text to a Word document so I could refer to it while listening.
 

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^^^
Will refer to that as well, thanks! I have my first cycle of quartets coming in the mail. And currently working my way through the symphonies.
 
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