3 comments

  1. Years ago, Esa-Pekka Salonen started a Shostakovich cycle with the LAP: 3 symphonies a year, with the corresponding numerical string quartet being played in the grand tier hall at the old Dot beforehand. E-PS bailed after a year, making the damning remark “Well, I’d not really known the music before, it’s….<>interesting<>” (translation: it sucks). So, after a performance of the 10th string quartet, my friend Jim gushed “Shostakovich wrote the greatest quartets EVER!”. My friend Patrick and I looked at him like he had 3 heads. “Better than Beethoven’s?” said Patrick. [Jim nodded Yes]. “Better than Bartok’s?” I asked, incredulous. Jim said firmly “Oh, absolutely”. We never took his opinion as seriously after that.So, where do you think Shostakovich’s quartets fit in the canon?

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  2. Um, after reading that again, it sounds like a challenge to a duel: [slap slap] Beethoven or Shostakovich? Which is it? [slap slap]Didn’t mean it that way, of course, I value your opinion highly and am just curious about where you’d place the dour Russian’s quartets.

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  3. I think as far as the quartets are concerned, Shostakovich-Beethoven is apples-oranges—when he’s misbehaving, Shostakovich is getting in-your-face with the <>tradition<> of the string quartet in a way Beethoven never could, and when he’s not, it’s hard to compare him to anybody. I mean, the 13th and 15th quartets—they don’t behave like any other music for the group that I know.But I think the other thing that’s hard is that Shostakovich is a lot less foolproof than Beethoven. A mediocre Beethoven performance is still pretty enervating, whereas a mediocre Shostakovich performance is a long night indeed. But a terrific performance levels the playing field quite a bit, at least for me. I think the same way about Bach and Handel; a really good performance of Handel, and I’m almost ready to rate the glorious extravagance over Bach’s precision watchmaking. But it has to be a <>really<> good performance.

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