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Shostakovich: The String Quartets

May 9, 2006 | Format: MP3

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$28.49 to buy
Song Title
Time
Popularity Prime  
30
1
3:55
30
2
3:59
30
3
2:23
30
4
3:44
30
5
7:57
30
6
9:05
30
7
5:28
30
8
10:43
30
9
6:52
30
10
4:22
30
11
3:50
30
12
4:44
30
13
8:18
Disc 2
30
1
3:50
30
2
6:23
30
3
4:35
30
4
9:30
30
5
11:18
30
6
8:29
30
7
10:22
30
8
6:44
30
9
4:59
30
10
3:57
30
11
6:33
Disc 3
30
1
3:41
30
2
2:48
30
3
5:05
30
4
4:33
30
5
2:37
30
6
4:05
30
7
4:45
30
8
3:34
30
9
4:24
30
10
3:47
30
11
4:02
30
12
3:00
30
13
9:29
30
14
4:12
30
15
3:57
30
16
4:48
30
17
8:40
Disc 4
30
1
4:34
30
2
2:47
30
3
2:11
30
4
2:41
30
5
1:08
30
6
1:14
30
7
1:01
30
8
4:12
30
9
3:39
30
10
6:29
30
11
19:23
30
12
19:08
Disc 5
30
1
8:13
30
2
8:52
30
3
7:58
30
4
12:36
30
5
5:47
30
6
1:38
30
7
4:30
30
8
4:35
30
9
6:18
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Product Details

  • Original Release Date: April 10, 2006
  • Release Date: May 9, 2006
  • Number of Discs: 5
  • Label: Decca
  • Copyright: (C) 2006 Decca Music Group Limited
  • Record Company Required Metadata: Music file metadata contains unique purchase identifier. Learn more.
  • Total Length: 5:58:21
  • Genres:
  • ASIN: B0015RZMAA
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,284 Paid in Albums (See Top 100 Paid in Albums)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
It's hard to assign stars to this set because it's just a different approach from the three other sets I own (Borodin, Fitzwilliam, Brodsky]. Whereas the others tend to emphasize the dramatic, soulful, and sarcastic elements of the Shostakovich, the Emerson Quartet, to some extent, downplays these while moving through the music at a noticeably brisker tempo.

The result is that some features of the music are newly revealed and others are obscured. The biggest difference is in tempo (the Emersons are without a doubt the speediest). After this, one notices the difference in virtuosity (the Emersons have technique to burn, not that there are glaring deficiencies in any of the other groups).

The Emerson's don't make this music sound like Haydn by any stretch, but they do make it sound less anguished and spiritual. The flip side of this is that the music will seem less weird to listeners who don't crave anguished sounding string quartets.

In the end, I keep going back to the readings that are starker and that highlight the perverse aspects of the music (at times it even reminds me of Carl Stalling's comic scores for the classic Warner Bros. cartoons). Shostakovich put a lot of humor into these pieces, and the mood often shifts rapidly between silly-sounding runs and heart-breaking, almost operatic melodies underpinned by beautiful, slow-moving harmonies. I like the readings that point up these contrasts; others may think the Emersons wisely avoid the temptation to over-dramatize the music and walk a more tasteful line.

Also, my very favorite interpretations benefit from very careful studio engineering and a touch of reverb.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is a re-release of the Emerson String Quartet's live performances of the Shostakovich String Quartets. For Shostakovich lovers this is a must buy.

Note that Amazon does offer the original as well. This re-release, however, is priced at about half of the original. There is nothing left out in this one, so if you want the original artwork and so on, pay the double price. If you want the music to enjoy, buy this one -- at least until someone realizes that the two are competing with each other. (Note that many people, after viewing this album, purchased the more expensive one!)

That being said, many reviewers of this and other editions have compared Emerson's against Borodin String Quartet among others. The Emerson String Quartet is as perfect as one can get during this lifetime. It may lack "Soul," as some reviewers put it, but if it does, then I don't know what "soul" means. Different interpretations? Yes. Lack of soul? No. Americans can perform Russian works with dexterity. Incidentally, I also enjoy these same works produced on a budget label by an relatively unknown string quartet. I love them, too, and I'm keeping them both.
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Dmitri Shostakovich wrote a series of fifteen string quartets that span his entire career. These are alternately searing, violent, brooding, fiery, introspective works that run the gamut of human emotion and experience -- hardly beautiful, and often quite depressing. But man, do they pack a wallop! They're often considered the greatest creations in the string quartet genre since Beethoven, and it's easy to see why.

These were recorded in live performance in three separate years ('94, '98, and '99) at the summer Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. The playing is not only passionate and precise, but imbued with a palpable intensity. There's no audible hint of an audience, but applause is included judiciously at the conclusion of several of the works. The recording is close-up and very vivid, though not quite in-your-face; there's adequate space around the instruments to make listening comfortable. Any closer and you'd be hurled against the back wall!

This re-issued box set retails at less than half that of the original release. Even though I already have the quartets on separate older discs by various other groups, the Emersons give them that slap of American modernism quite apart from the Slavic flavor of a native Russian group like the Borodin Quartet. Yes, if one is familiar with these works, one can actually hear and feel the difference. I've read some reviewers here, as well as professional critics, write of the Emersons' lack of a "Russian soul"; I have no idea what that means. I suppose if one has to ask....
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This re-issue at bargain price of the Emerson's complete Shostakovich quartet cycle is a reminder that their breakthrough readings are roughly a decade old now (the set was taped in concert from Aspen 1994-99). Instead of Russian soul we get clean, often faster interpretations that brought out Shostakovich's modernist side, aided by the ultra virtuosity of the playing. In the meantime, however, other groups like the St. Lawrence and Hagen Quartets have made even more severe, biting, stark, haunted, and tragic recordings of selected works from the fifteen quartets. This doesn't mean the Emersons have been eclipsed, only that they started a trend that shows no sign of ending.

Also, I'd like to point out that if you want the best all-around modern set from a Russian group. the Shostakovich Quartet, which recorded for Olympia, can now be found on bargain reissues from Regis (Berkshire Record Outlet offers the complete quartets for $20). The SQ play beautifully, are well recorded, and imbue Shostakovich's music with more emotional intensity than the cooler Emersons. By comparison, the old standby set from the Fitzwilliam Quartet on Decca seems dated and stodgy. The choice for me comes down to 1. Emerson complete cycle 2. Shostakovich Quartet complete cycle or 3. Pick and choose among outstanding individual readings from the St. Lawrence, Kronos, Hagen, and of course older Soviet groups like the Borodin and Beethoven Quartets. That's just a thumbnail sketch. Many die-hard fans won't give up their beloved Emerson cycle, while older aficinados would never part with their traditional Soviet favorites.

P.S. 2013 - I regret that I skated over the great Shostakovich quartet cycle made in the sixties by the old Borodin Qt. before they changed personnel - it's available on Chandos at a good price and contains unmissable performances of the then-existing quartets (excluding no. 14 and 15).
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