Shostakovich: Complete String Quartets Vol. 2 - Mandelring Quartett

Shostakovich: Complete String Quartets Vol. 2 - Mandelring Quartett

Audite  92.527 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber

Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 3 in F major Op. 73, String Quartet No. 6 in G major Op. 101, String Quartet No. 8 in C minor Op. 110

Mandelring Quartett

Following the release of the Mandelring Quartet's highly acclaimed first volume of the Complete String Quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich, they have now recorded a second volume containing another three. Here again the ensemble addresses the overwhelming intensity of Shostakovich's music with maximum commitment and commanding expressive power without neglecting its intimate and lyrical aspects.

Quartet No. 8 confirmed Shostakovich's status as a composer of chamber music once and for all. With this five-movement work, composed in just a few days during a visit to the German Democratic Republic, the composer was writing a kind of requiem for himself, replete with quotations from his most important works. He was 53 at the time, and could look back on a turbulent life which for two decades was deeply marked by a battle of wills with Stalin, the Soviet dictator - a trauma which remained with Shostakovich till the end of his life. Further stages in his project to come to terms with the quartet genre are evident in Quartet No. 3 (1946) and Quartet No. 6 (1956), two works which chart his achievement in steering a path between folk music and baroque techniques and reconciling the trauma of war with the reconstruction taking place during the "thaw" which followed Stalin's death.

Shostakovich's 15 quartets represent an imposing body of work. His range and encyclopaedic command of the medium are without parallel in twentieth-century music.

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Reviews (2)

Review by Mark Novak - October 21, 2007

I am very impressed with this series of the Shosty quartets from the Maderling. With regard to Vol 1, I completely agree with Robstl's cogent review. I too have the original Borodin set (EMI RBCD not the Chando which was recorded later) which is heartfelt and intense but suffers a bit from very average recorded analog sound. Similarly, the Emerson set on DG RBCD (recorded live) are also intense performances. Over the years, I have found that Emerson qt recordings sound initially exciting to me but they don't wear well over time. The Emersons are superb players but there is something about their interpretations that leave me wanting more. They ultimately come off as four highly virtuosic players but seldom sound like a truly unified ensemble to me. This applies to their Bartok RBCD set as well (which also won numerous rewards when it was released). I don't buy Emerson recordings any more.

Vol 2 of the Manderling's is fully the equal of Vol 1 in both performance and sonics. This group's ensemble playing is miraculous. They convey this music with equal amounts of humanity and vigor (when needed) and they make the music more accessible than the Emerson's IMO. The recording is pcm but it is so well done that I couldn't care less. A rarity for me, I am giving this release double 5's. I won't take the time to repeat this for volume 1 but it applies to that release as well. Can't wait for the rest of this series. Highly recommended!

Copyright © 2007 Mark Novak and


Sonics (Stereo):

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Review by John Broggio - January 21, 2009

Full of emotional charge, there is great beauty even in anguish.

As a reflection of the devastation wreaked by World War II, the 8th quartet is Shostakovich's most famous essay in the medium (thanks largely to the transcriptions for string orchestra and beyond) and fully justifies its position. The 3rd and 6th quartets were composed in the immediate aftermath to this dreadful period of history and yet do not have the full impact that Shostakovich was to give voice to in the 8th. Despite that and the surface sunshine and smattering of humour, there is an uneasy calm to the quartet endings that hint at the troubled world from which the world was beginning to emerge.

The 3rd quartet is in 5 movements, like the more famous 8th, and shares a great deal structurally with the later work. The Mandelring Quartet point moments of humour with affection and it would be a cold-hearted listener who didn't have a wry smile at the end of the first movement, thanks to the delightful and playful execution of a wonderful moment. The start of the second movement immediately snatches away whatever good spirits with a march that imitates the great 8th symphony (albeit on a far smaller scale - both sonically and its time-scale). Again, the Mandelring take great care to point out the emotional contrasts without ever sacrificing their quality of tone. The second movement is but a preparation for the furious violence of the third movement Scherzo which is played with jaw-dropping intensity. A short funeral march follows, given a bleak account here, that leads attacca into the finale: a dance that gradually peters out before a forlorn F major chord is held under the musings of the first violin - very beautifully but disturbingly rendered by Sebastian Schmidt.

The 6th quartet has a more conventional 4 movement structure; as in the 3rd quartet, what seems to be playful and light-hearted at first is quickly subverted into much more intense drama. The "scherzo" is at first glance a simple waltz-like affair that pastiches a pastiche (a bit like Mahler) and the slow movement is a passacaglia that is very serious in comparison to the surrounding music. The finale is largely pastoral and apart from the middle section, avoids the wrought feelings that are often found in Shostakovich's writing. As ever, the Mandelring's play this with an almost inhuman perfection but their art is such that the beauty arrives as a by-product of truth rather than being an aim in itself. Wonderful stuff.

In the 8th quartet, the Mandelring players find striking similarities with the 10th symphony. Rarely has the opening movement been played as bleakly and evoke such a sense of desolation as it does here - having been coached BPO members/ensembles, it sounds quite likely that they worked on this with players of the famous Karajan readings. The sheer fury of attack and struggle in the allegro molto once again evokes the 10th symphony, after which the wind down into the allegretto is most marvellously handled. The last two largo movements again evoke the horror and desolation of the aftermath of war and it is to the credit of the Mandelring players one experiences these feelings so clearly. Absolutely world class musicianship.

The sound is very precise, giving clear locations for each of the four players and allowing their glorious tone to be reproduced impeccably.

The cycle must be turning into one of the best accounts of these masterpieces to appear and none have been accorded such fine sound to date. Even were a rival cycle to appear on SACD, it is unlikely to compare favourably with such outstanding musicianship.

Copyright © 2009 John Broggio and


Sonics (Multichannel):

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