(Cedille Records has recently released the Pacifica Quartet’s recordings of the complete quartets of Shostakovich as a box set. Below is a reprint of Edward Reichel’s review of the four discs that first appeared in Reichel Recommends in March 2014.)
Since its founding 20 years ago, the Pacifica Quartet has become one of today’s top string quartets. The group has attained this exalted position because of its amazing artistry, impeccable technique and polished and sophisticated interpretations. Many of its performances have raised the bar on quartet playing.
And with its recently finished four volume set of the complete Shostakovich quartets the foursome has set a high standard for this composer’s quartets. Others have recorded all 15 of the quartets, but in terms of interpretation and execution the Pacifica does it better. Listening to their insightful and sensitive performances on these albums one feels that many of these works were written with the Pacifica in mind. It doesn’t get any better than this.
All of the performances on this set are memorable, but several stand out.
Among the exceptional readings of these quartets is the Seventh in F sharp minor. The kaleidoscopic character of the work is given a seamless treatment by the Pacifica that brings a nicely balanced cohesiveness to the work as a whole.
The Eighth in C minor is also given a stunning reading. The Eighth is one of Shostakovich’s best known and most frequently played quartets. It’s a tragic work with powerful emotions. The Pacifica gives a heartfelt and poignant account that underscores the pathos of the work.
Shostakovich’s final quartet, written in the year before his death in 1975, is filled with searing emotions and pain. Its tragedy is on a higher level than that encountered in the Eighth, and the Pacifica acknowledges that with its stunning reading that almost lets the listener feel the pain that Shostakovich expresses. This is perhaps the best performance in this set.
Unlike other complete cycles, the Pacifica also includes works by some of Shostakovich’s contemporaries, including Alfred Schnittke and Sergei Prokofiev. Including them in this collection puts their music, as well as Shostakovich’s, in a new and better perspective.
This set is a definite must have for any lover of chamber music.