Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids

8.10.18

A Survey of Shostakovich String Quartet Cycles



Discographies on ionarts: Bach Organ Cycles | Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycles I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX | Beethoven Symphony Cycles Index | Beethoven String Quartet Cycles | Bruckner Symphony Cycles | Dvořák Symphony Cycles | Shostakovich Symphony Cycles | Shostakovich String Quartet Cycles | Sibelius Symphony Cycles | Mozart Keyboard Sonata Cycles


Continuing my discographies, this is a survey of - hopefully - every extant recorded cycle of Shostakovich's String Quartets. As opposed to the 16 quartets of Beethoven's, where the survey covers nearly six dozen cycles, there are 'only' about 20 such cycles of Shostakovich's String Quartets out. For now, they are neatly bookended by the Borodin Quartet's first and fourth attempt at a cycle. (Raising the question, à la “Can you step in the same river twice?”, whether a string quartet is still the same string quartet 50 years later, with all new members).

The Borodin also raises the question as to what is a complete-enough cycle. Their first cycle, containing quartets 1-13, certainly counts - it was complete at the time and 13 out of 15 ain't bad. The Borodin's digital re-recordings of quartets 2, 3, 7, 8 & 12 for Virgin, however, which may or may not have been intended to be a cycle, don't qualify in my book. (Also, I don't think they are particularly good). Neither do the Hagen Quartet, who recorded six quartets (3, 7, 8 & 4, 11, 14), the excellent Jerusalem Quartet's 6/15 cycle (ionarts review), the St. Petersburg Quartet's first go at it for Sony (1, 2, 4 + 3, 5, 7), or the Rubio Quartet's first attempt at a cycle on Globe from 1996 - 98 (1, 4, 8, 2, 3, 5 + 7, 9, 12) or the Quatuor Debussy's six quartets (3, 7, 10, & 4, 8, 13), or the Aviv Quartet's eight quartets (1, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 & 13), or the Prazak's two discs (7, 8, 14, 15 + op.36), or the Kopelman Quartet's recordings on Nimbus (1, 8 + Miaskovsky, 2 + E.Kissin [sic!], 3, 7 + Prokofiev & 10 + Weinberg), although their programming was innovative and prefigured the Pacifica cycle. (Then again, it still seems ongoing and might yet be finished.) There's even the Japanese Morgaua Quartet recording these works (when they don't dabble in progressive rock) with a cycle about half-way through and available only from/via Japan.

I am sitting on the data for several new discographic entries under work. Ring cycles, Mahler, Nielsen, Martinů and Beethoven symphony-cycles, as well as Bartók string quartet-cycles. They just take an awful lot of time to research and then put into html-presentable shape and even then they are rarely complete or mistake free. Neither will this one be, and every such post is also a plea to generously inclined readers with more information and knowledge of the subject than I have to lend a helping hand correcting my mistakes or filling data-lacunae. I am explicitly grateful for any such pointers, hinters, and corrections and apologize for any bloomers. Unlike some earlier discographies, this one does intend to be comprehensive. So I am especially grateful if sets that I have missed are pointed out to me. I have not listened to them all, of course, but most. Favorites are indicated with the "ionarts choice" graphic. With several hundred links in this document, there are, despite my best efforts, bound to be some that are broken or misplaced; I am glad about every correction that comes my way about those, too.








Borodin Quartet
(1967 – 1972)

Rostislav Dubinsky, Yaroslav Alexandrov, Dmitry Shebalin, Valentin Berlinsky

The first recorded DSCH SQ4t Cycle. The Borodin was not the quartet that premiered (most of) the Shostakovich Quartets - the Beethoven [2-14], Glazunov [1] and Taneyev [15] Quartets did, but they were the first to finish a recording of the cycle. Except that Shostakovich himself wasn't finished and went on to compose two more quartets. A classic, despite missing quartets 14 and 15, not the least for featuring the original lineup of the Borodin Quartet. The sound is surprisingly good. A review from Tony Haywood on MusicWeb can be found here.

available at Amazon
String Quartets
1-13
Chandos
Release: 2003
4CDs

US | UK | DE



Beethoven Quartet
(1956 – 1974)

Dmitri Tsyganov, Vasily Shirinsky (Nikolai ZabavnikovVadim), Borisovsky (Fyodor Druzhinin), Sergei Shirinsky (Yevgeny Altman)

The Beethoven Quartet was working closely with Shostakovich and premiered all his quartets except for his first (of which they played the Moscow premiere a month after the Glazunov Quartet's first performance) and last (during the rehearsals of which Dmitri Tsyganov died) and Nos. 11 through 14 are each dedicated to one of the members of the Beethoven String Quartet. The recordings were made for Melodiya and have been put together and re-issued (apparently with some audio issues) by Doremi. You don't get more of a breath of authenticity, presumably.

available at Amazon
String Quartets
+ Op.11
Doremi
Release: 2006
5CDs

US | UK | DE



Taneyev Quartet
(1968 – 1976)

Vladmir Ovcharek, Grigori Lutski, Vissarion Soloview, Josif Levinson

The Taneyev (or Taneiev) Quartet, after the Beethoven and Borodin Quartets, is the third of a triumvirate of quartets that were in close touch with the composer and whose readings might be called 'authentic'. The luxurious Korean Aulos re-release is long out of print; individual copies of these quartets on various labels are floating about on Amazon and the like. A re-issue from Melodiya would be very much appreciated. A review from Jonathan Woolf on MusicWeb can be found here.

available at Amazon
String Quartets
[OOP]
Aulos
Release: DATE
6CDs

US | UK | DE



Fitzwilliam Quartet
(1975 – 1977)

Christopher Rowland, Jonathan Sparey, Alan George, Joan Davies

The Fitzwilliams also worked together with Shostakovich to produce (some of) these recordings. The touch of composer-induced authenticity therefore also extends to this ensemble, which was the quartet in charge of familiarizing a Western audience with these stunning works. By all accounts, they did a great job - and for at least two decades this was the go-to cycle in the UK and beyond, where and when the second Borodin Cycle's incarnations weren't consistently available. This cycle was also licensed by the Musical Heritage Society. ClassicsToday review here.

available at Amazon
String Quartets

Decca
Release: 1998
6CDs

US | UK | DE



Borodin Quartet II
(1978 – 1983)

Mikhail Kopelman, Andrei Abramenkov, Dmitri Shebalin, Valentin Berlinsky (P: Sviatoslav Richter, Q2: Prokofiev Quartet)

The second cycle from the Borodin, in stereo throughout and with terrific boni in form of he Piano Quintet (with Richter) and the Two Pieces for String Octet, has long been considered the definitive in authenticity and all-around quality. It might still be. It's terrific and terrifying and wildly satisfying and the only questionmark about it is the strange fact that it repeatedly lapses into inexplicable out-of-printness. Gritty and involving; occasionally on the slow side. The Sixth and Ninth Quartet and the Quintet were recorded live which adds in atmosphere more than it detracts in sound quality. This is one of the three sets recommended in Surprised by Beauty.


available at Amazon
String Quartets
+ opp. 11 & 57
Melodiya
Release: 2006
6CDs

US | UK | DE



available at Amazon
String Quartets
+ opp. 11 & 57
Melodiya-BMG
Release: 1997?
6CDs

US | UK | DE



available at Amazon
String Quartets
+ opp. 11 & 57
EMI
Release: 1994
6CDs

US | UK | DE



Shostakovich Quartet
(1978 – 1988)

Andre Shishlov, Sergei Pishchugin, Alexander Galkovsky, Alexander Korchagin

Originally released on Olympia, the Shostakovich Quartet's recording of the Shostakovich Quartets is one of the hardest to find online. Therein is a lesson for future generations of chamber ensembles: Do not name yourself after a famous composer if you have any intentions of recording said composer widely. It's every search-engine's nightmare. Pity, because the cycle is rather good and was a perennial Penguing Guide favorite.

available at Amazon
String Quartets
+ op.36
Alto
Release: 2010
5CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
String Quartets
+ op.36
Regis
Release: 1999
5CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
String Quartets
+ op.36
Olympia [oop]
Release: 1995
5CDs

US | UK | DE



Brodsky Quartet I
(1989)

Michael Thomas, Ian Belton, Paul Cassidy, Jacqueline Thomas

The first cycle of the Brodsky Quartet, recorded in Berlin shortly after they performed all the quartets in concert in London. It might have been meant to become the successor to the Fitzwilliam cycle but never quite got the necessary traction. James Leonard called them "coolly objective, almost disinterested, and certainly unaffecting performances... [with the quartet's] immense anguish and despairing depths... missing." A meandering review of this set can be found on MusicWeb.

available at Amazon
String Quartets

Teldec
Release: 2003
6CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
String Quartets

Teldec
Release: 1990
6CDs

US | UK | DE



Manhattan String Quartet
(1989? – 1990)

Eric Lewis, Roy Lewis, John Dexter, Judith Glyde

I know little to none about this cycle, except that it was initially well received in the States, with Time Magazine selecting it as the Best of 1991 in the chamber music category. James Leonard disagrees, considering them "the worst cycle of the works ever recorded, the most consistently technically and interpretively flawed recordings of the works ever made..." The snippets I've heard suggest that Leonard has a point - althought sheer struggle in these works could always be euphemized as "edge of the seat playing", I suppose.

available at Amazon
String Quartets

ESS.A.Y
Release: 1991
6 individ. CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
String Quartets

ESS.A.Y
Release: 1992
6CDs

US | UK | DE



Éder Quartet
(1993 – 1996)

György Selmeczi, Péter Szüts, Sándor Papp, György Éder

Naxos got into the fray with their Éder Quartet. Never boxed, this cycle is available only individually. The quartet goes back quite a bit; they wone second (top) prize at the ARD International String Quartet Competition in Munich in 1977 and had been a staple in the Naxos stable, also recording Mozart for them.

available at Amazon
String Quartets

Naxos
Release: 1994 - 1998
6 individ. CDs

US | UK | DE



Emerson String Quartet
(1994 – 1998)

Eugene Drucker, Philip Setzer, Lawrence Dutton, David Finckel

The Emerson's cycle mad a big splash when it came out, winning a GRAMMY each for Best Classical and best Chamber Performance. Do you know the "Structure" Instagram filter? This is Shostakovich with that filter to the max. Details are in sharp relief; harsh is very harsh; lyrical is very lyrical. I've always found it glib and cold and wasn't enthused at the time (nor did I like the applause that was retained on these live recordings), but it's been a long time since I have heard these recordings and at this point I only have a memory of an impression, not of the performances themselves. I am, actually, intrigued to dive back into them before long. A MusicWeb review can be found here.

available at Amazon
String Quartets
live; + op.36
DG
Release: 2006
5CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
String Quartets
live; + op.36
DG
Release: 2000
5CDs

US | UK | DE



Rubio Quartet
(2002)

Dirk van de Velde, Dirk van den Hauwe, Marc Sonnaert, Peter Devos

The second time the Rubio Quartet - named after a luthier - set out to record the cycle of DSCH string quartets, they got to the finish line for the Dutch super-bargain Brilliant label. ClassicsToday review here and MusicWeb review here. For being on Brilliant, it is probably underrated.

available at Amazon
String Quartets

Brilliant
Release: DATE
5CDs

US | UK | DE



St. Petersburg Quartet
(1999 – 2003)

Alla Aranovskaya, Ilya Teplyakov, Konstanin Kats (Alexei Koptev), Leonid Shukaev (P: Igor Uryash)

This cycle came out to mixed reviews but James Leonard thought it "strong-willed and clear-eyed, [with] every technical aspect of the scores... clarified, but.. also passionate as well as compassionate, [with] every emotional element in the scores... fully expressed." ClassicsToday have reviewed five of the six individual release here, here, here, here and here. You can access the liner notes of this recording on Hyperion's website here.

available at Amazon
String Quartets
+ opp. 57, 67
hyperion [oop]
Release: 2006
6CDs

US | UK | DE



Sorrel Quartet
(1998 – 2004)

Gina McCormack, Catherine Yates (Vicci Wardman), Sarah-Jane Bradley, Helen Thatcher (P: Martin Roscoe)

The first Shostakovich cycle performed by an all-female ensemble. Mixed reviews, some very good, some ho-hum. ClassicsToday reviews: vol.1, vol.3, vol.5; MusicWeb review of vol.6 here.

available at Amazon
String Quartets
+ op.57
Chandos
Release: 2006
6CDs

US | UK | DE



Quatuor Danel
(2001 – 2005)

Marc Danel, Gilles Millet, Tony Nys, Guy Danel

This cycle, first out on fuga libera and recently re-issued on Alpha, has always been very well regarded. As a Gallic (Belgian) take on the quartets it adds a flavor hitherto not present on the market, which was until then made up largely of Russian and Anglo quartets. If there was a fourth cycle that we'd recommend in the Shostakovich chapter of Surprised by Beauty, it would probably be this one. ClassicsToday review here. Gramophone review here.


available at Amazon
String Quartets

Alpha
Release: 2015
5CDs

US | UK | DE



available at Amazon
String Quartets

fuga libera
Release: 2005
5CDs

US | UK | DE



Rasumowsky Quartett
(2005)

Dora Bratchkova, Ewgenia Grandjean, Gerhards Müller, Alina Kudelevic

This is the first DSCH-SQ4t cycle by a German string quartet and it comes with a recommendation by Maxim Shostakovich - and the claim to be the first recording to stick to the new Urtext editions of the quartets. Admittedly, I never even knew it existed until researching this discography... which suggests - actual quality aside - that it never made a splash. Here's a MusicWeb review.

available at Amazon
String Quartets
+ op.36
Oehms
Release: 2008
5CDs

US | UK | DE



The Alexander String Quartet
(2005 – 2006)

Zakarias Grafilo, Frederick Lifsitz, Paul Yarbough, Sandy Wilson (P: Roger Woodward)

The Alexander Quartet are a splendid ensemble who also have two Beethoven String Quartet cycles to their name. On this two-partite cycle they don't just add the Piano Quintet but also, for the first time, the re-discovered movement of one of the first two (both aborted) attempts at a Ninth Quartet. They also throw in string quartet transcriptions for select Preludes and Fugues. There's a vaguely gushing MusicWeb review here. Like all their recent releases, these recordings were made at New York City’s American Academy of Arts and Letters,

available at Amazon
String Quartets v.1
+ op.57, op.87/1, 10, 15, 17
Foghorn Classics
Release: 2006
3CDs

US | UK | DE


available at Amazon
String Quartets v.2
Unfinished Q4t, Allegretto 9a
Foghorn Classics
Release: 2006
3CDs

US | UK | DE



Mandelring Quartett
(2005 – 2009)

Sebastian Schmidt, Nanette Schmidt, Roland Glassl, Bernhard Schmidt

The Mandelring cycle on Audite was the first (and remains, as of late 2018, the only) set on SACD. It is among the very best sounding cycles, even on the Red-Book CD layer. To quote from the recommendation in Surprised by Beauty: "The Mandelring Quartett are Shostakovich-seducers, not Shostakovich-enforcers and they bring out the sheer beauty of all of Shostakovich’s brilliantly harrowing ugliness. Three of its four members are siblings and the fourth plays as if he were a family member. They perform as if these quartets were taking place inside a single soul, achieving an extraordinary quality of interiority and unanimity. Accentuating surfaces more than spikes, corners, and gore, their rhythmic beat is propulsive but rarely maniacal and their splendid sound matches that of the recording: a perfect foil to more fervent, rougher interpretations." David Hurwitz agrees more or less on ClassicsToday. In-depth ionarts review here. Note that the individual releases are hybrid-SACDs wheras the set is CD-only!


available at Amazon
String Quartets

Audite
Release: 2011
5 CDs

US | UK | DE



available at Amazon
String Quartets
individ. releases
Audite
Release: 2006-09
5 SACDs

US | UK | DE



Pacifica Quartet
(2010 – 2013)

Simin Ganatra, Sibbi Bernhardsson, Masumi Per Rostad, Brandon Vamos

The Pacifica Quartet is the third cycle that gets a recommendation in Surprised by Beauty: Their set "invigorates and enlightens the Shostakovich quartets with couplings of contemporary quartets: Nikolay Myaskovsky’s 13th on volume 1, Prokofiev’s 2nd on volume 2, Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s 6th on volume 3, and Alfred Schnittke’s 3rd on volume 4. The performances bristle with energy and their Shostakovich ends up setting a new standard amid already strong competition." Here's David Hurwitz on ClassicsToday who opines similarly.


available at Amazon
String Quartets
+ other SQ4ts
Cedille
Release: 2014
8CDs

US | UK | DE



Brodsky Quartet II
(2016)

Daniel Rowland, Kian Belton, Paul Cassidy, Jacqueline Thomas

The second time the Brodsky Quartet recorded these works: I wonder how many people thought that once was more than enough. Well, there it is anyway, live from Amsterdam. Only the husband-and-wife team of violist and cellist are still the same from their first go. Here's a review on MusicWeb which, alas, waffles its way to not daring to draw a conclusion, remarking aptly if pointlessly that "live Shostakovich cycles by non-seated players have to be few and far between". Until (and even if) the Zehetmair Quartet does/did a cycle (which incidentally would be swell!), that's very true. Admittedly I've not heard it yet and it might plausibly be wonderful

available at Amazon
String Quartets

Chandos
Release: 2016
6CDs

US | UK | DE



Borodin Quartet III
(2014 – 2016)

Ruben Aharonian, Sergey Lomovsky, Igor Naidin, Vladimir Balshin (P: Alexei Volodin)

The third DSCH SQ4t Cycle from the Borodin (not counting their one-off digital recording of a few quartets for Virgin)! The cast - post-Berlinsky and Abramenkov - is now entirely new from what it was on any of the previous cycles, but the name lives on and, presumably, the tradition. This new cycle includes the Piano Quintet, the Unfinished Quartet "Allegretto 9/1" (second, after the Alexander Quartet to record this rather new find), the Two Pieces for String Quartet op.36a, and - uniquely among cycles listed here, Music from Podrugi, op.41a, arranged for string quartet, piano and trumpet. (With none less than Sergei Nakariakov on trumpet and Alexei Lubimov as the pianist. Alexei Volodin plays in the Quintet.) The arrival of this set has finally made me put this discography together.

available at Amazon
String Quartets
+ opp.57, 36a, op.41a, Allegretto 9/1
Decca
Release: 2018
7CDs

US | UK | DE




shostakovich string quartets cycle complete overview, complete shostakovich string quartets

No comments: