Tuesday, June 2, 2009

S.Q. Daily #17: Shostakovich No. 2 (complete)

S.Q. Daily: A Composer's Listening Journal

Day #17: Dmitry Shostakovich
String Quartet No.
2 (complete)

Listening to the Fitzwilliam Quartet again. (6 CDs for $12)

I'm starting to focus on Shostakovich's quartets because there are a lot of them (15, like the symphonies), they span nearly his entire life, and they each exhibits originality through solid musical craft.

I was so impressed with its second movement last night that I decided to give the entire second quartet a listen today while washing dishes. Movement II still stands out due to its stark textural contrast (two recitatives framing a "romance"), but the others combine to make this a quartet worth noting.

In the first movement the first violin spends quite a lot of time above the staff. This range can be beautiful, dramatic, and arresting, but stay up there too long, and it can become piercing as well. The movement as a whole is successful, though, with clear motives, varied textures, and a good balance of unity and variety.

The third movement is second only to the second in immediate interest for me. The low and winding cello solo, later picked up by none other than the first violin, is a great contrast to the pulse-less feel of the previous section. The action gets heavier and louder until, at about 70% of the way through, the dynamic suddenly drops before fading into nothing at the end.

The fourth movement I definitely need to listen to again. I had a terrible time discerning the form, or the emotional development of the movement in general. Then I looked at the score and discovered it's a Theme and Variations. Silly!

Give this whole work a listen. It's pretty cool.

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