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BILL NEWMAN discusses the Emersons' new recording
of the complete Shostakovich works for string quartet


<< Continued from page 5

Quartet No.11 (1966) in six movements is subtitled 'The Little Theatre of Dmitri Shostakovich.' It exploits film score, opera and ballet, all of which he had already delved into, and includes cross fades, double exposures, titled movements like 'Scherzo', 'Etude', 'Humoresque' [listen, CD 4 track 7, 0:35 - 1:01], 'Elegy', and a quote from Beethoven's 'Eroica' Symphony. Finckel again: 'Sometimes, he will repeat something over and over again. After a while you realize that this isn't meant to be serious, this is meant to seem ridiculous.' Quartet No.12 (1968) has been described as dialectic, a succession of smooth-flowing material dissolving into new contrasting rhythms, becoming redefined, then finally erased. The second movement over a space of nearly 20 minutes embraces scherzo, adagio and finale, featuring 12 note pitches, violent trills, a 5-note rhythmic figure, stark contrasts and a re-examination of all that has taken place [listen, CD 4 track 11, 0:00 - 0:54].

Shostakovich's Obituary in 'Pravda', 12 August 1975. (Cover photo, booklet II, (c) 2000 Deutsche Grammophon GmbHBetween 1970-3, we go beyond reality into the hallucinatory regions of the unknown. Shostakovich was very ill on drugs for a polio-like syndrome, and a heart disease that eventually developed into cancer. I am reminded of an old Picture Post magazine that reproduced the older Stravinsky's facial expression directing his own music. The photographer had deliberately blurred his subject to focus solely on the eyes suggesting that what lay behind the startling façade would stimulate the viewer into pinpointing the exact moment of inspiration directly springing from the brain cells. Substitute instead Shostakovich listening spellbound to a performance of his 15th Quartet, Leningrad, 1974 - the photo appears in a group adjacent to pages 142/3 in 'Testament' - and you gain insight into the complexities of his uncanny landscape displayed in the last three Quartets. No.13 (1970, 3 sections played continuously, dedicated to Vadim Borovsky, retired violist of the Beethovens) defies convention with wood knockings, scraping, plucking, thick clotted chords that banish harmony, ghost-like imaginings [listen, CD 4 track 12, 6:47 - 7:31]. No. 14 (1972-3, 3 movements, cellist Shirinsky once more) isolates its dedicatee, concentrating on his adept lightness of hand movements [listen, CD 5 track 1, 1:18 - 2:17]. A sense of timelessness counters earlier frustrations with ultimate sweet melancholy, but in the final quartet No.15 (1974), solitary notes are wrenched from a background of silence during the opening Elegy - like Nomads in the Desert - then developed fugue-wise before subsiding into the key of C major. In the remaining movements - Serenade, Intermezzo, Nocturne, Funeral March [listen, CD 5 track 8, 0:00 - 1:10], Epilogue - past episodes of the bombings with their bleak aftermath and the suppressed violence and bitterness of life's memories find an outlet in a funeral march that parallels Beethoven's A flat Piano Sonata, Op.26 with its same identical key and rhythmic pulse. The final section is, in fact an apotheosis of all that went before, the spirit leaving the body on a fluttering major-minor viola trill linking hope with despair.

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Copyright © 28 May 2000 Bill Newman, Edgware, UK








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