Recordings of modern masters appeal Still a thrill: Beethoven Quartet's performance is what Shostakovich heard

CLASSICAL SOUNDS

Repin and Berezovsky play Prokofiev's 'Melodies' with lyricism and excitement.

November 05, 1995|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Shostakovich, String Quartets Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14 and 15, performed by the Beethoven Quartet (Consonance 81-3005, 81-3006, 81-3007, 81-3008); Prokofiev, Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2, "Five Melodies," performed by violinist Vadim Repin and pianist Boris Berezovsky (Erato 0630-10698-2):

Shostakovich and Prokofiev have had ups and downs in reputation in the past 50 years, but it seems to safe to say that no 20th-century composers have a firmer place in the standard repertory. Every string quartet performs the 15 string quartets of Shostakovich, which now seem to have surpassed the six of Bartok as the greatest body of work in the genre since those of Beethoven. And almost all pianists and violinists are indebted to Prokofiev, many of whose sonatas and concertos are as popular as those of the 19th century.

The Beethoven Quartet performances of 11 of Shostakovich's string quartets belong in a category of their own. This quartet -- its original members were Dmitri Tsiganov and Vasily Shirinsky, violins; Vadim Borisovsky, viola; and Sergei Shirinsky, cello -- was founded in the middle 1920s and became synonymous with Soviet musical culture. From 1938 until the composer's death in 1975, it played a central role in Shostakovich's life: with the exceptions of his first and last quartets, the Beethoven Quartet gave the premiere of every Shostakovich quartet.

The Beethoven retained its identity over an unusually long period. Tsiganov, the first violinist, stepped down in 1977, and the quartet's other members were always replaced by their students. These discs, which were recorded between 1956 and 1975, therefore represent the sound Shostakovich had in his ears when he composed some of his greatest music.

They happen to be beautiful, well-recorded performances. It's nothing less than chutzpah for a non-Russian to say that the Beethoven's performances are more definitive than those of the Borodin Quartet or the Fitzwilliam Quartet, each of which was also closely associated with the composer. But certain details -- such as the curve of the first violin's line in the first movement of No. 7 in F sharp minor or the impassioned solos and savagely punctuated chords in the "Funeral March" of No. 15 in E flat minor -- speak with an authenticity that suggests a shared response to the experiences out of which these harrowing pieces were written.

About the Repin-Berezovsky Prokofiev disc, suffice it to say that -- unless you dig up the Oistrakh-Oborin or the Oistrakh-Bauer performances of the same works -- you can't do better. This brilliant young violinist and pianist have been playing together since they were children, and it shows in the unanimity and precision of their ensemble. This pair is somewhat more classically restrained than Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich are in the same sonatas on a recent DG disc, but they are nearly as exciting, and they counter Kremer-Argerich's incomparable sauciness with their own deeply felt lyricism. And it's this last-named quality that makes the Repin-Berezovsky version of the "Five Melodies" superior to those of Kremer and Argerich.

Hear the music

To hear excerpts from Prokofiev's "Five Melodies" as performed by Repin and Berezovsky, call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6190. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

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