Pacifica Quartet’s Complete Shostakovich (and Friends)

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

If you’ve been following this series, you already know that it’s one of the great Shostakovich quartet cycles, outstanding even in a very crowded field. To the excellent versions of the 15 Shostakovich Quartets, the Pacifica adds four quartets by Shostakovich’s contemporaries. Individual releases already have been reviewed in these pages, and there is little more that needs to be said here. The ensemble plays this music magnificently, whether in the big, symphonic Second and Third quartets, the ideally paced Fourth, the intensely tragic Eighth, or the gaunt, mysterious, and dark final three.

Having all four two-disc volumes gathered together in an attractively-priced box does, however, reveal something very interesting about the selection of the accompanying quartets by Shostakovich’s contemporaries. These show a chronological progression from Miaskovsky (No. 13) through Prokofiev (No. 2), Weinberg (No. 6), and finally Schnittke (No. 3). Over the course of the 20th century, we hear the evolution of the Soviet quartet from the late-Romantic styles of Miaskovsky and, to a lesser extent Prokofiev, to an idiom in which the model becomes Shostakovich’s own (Weinberg), and later begins to seek out new directions (Schnittke). It’s  a fascinating commentary on the Shostakovich Quartets that both places them in context and confirms their importance as iconic works in the genre.

There are certainly other Shostakovich cycles that may be as idiomatic or as well played, but there are none so thoughtful, and few so well engineered. A landmark, plain and simple.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Borodin Quartet (Melodiya); This One

    Complete String Quartets; Quartets by Miaskovsky, Prokofiev, Weinberg, Schnittke

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