Coming so soon after the similar Capriccio disc which coupled Quartets Nos. 1 and 4 with the Piano Quintet, this Chandos issue offers fascinating scope for comparison – and wins on just about every count.
The Sorrel Quartet play with exceptional technical security coupled with a real feeling for the music. They are able to project the full run of emotions the composer evokes – and it is the full gamut – because they are so obviously on Shostakovich's wavelength.
Beginning with the first quartet, it is the recording's depth that is the first thing to strike the listener. This is expert engineering, all in the service of the players' focus and concentration. Pianissimi have a rapt quality about them, and when Shostakovich pares his textures down in the second movement it is heart-stopping. Yet the Allegro molto third movement buzzes with energy. Only the finale could benefit from more earthiness.
Where the Petersen Quartet added the Fourth Quartet, the Sorrel has opted for the Twelfth of some thirty years later. There is an interesting disjunction between Eric Roseberry's booklet note, which refers to the 'calm D flat tonality of the first movement'. The Sorrel Quartet adds to this calm a soupçon of disquiet that is most appropriate. Most importantly there is a sense that the Sorrel Quartet knows the score intimately, a sureness of foot (or feet) as to where it is all going.
The contrast in the longer second movement (the quartet is proportioned 7'41 then 21'20) is huge. The trills of the opening are positively diabolic in nature; for some reason the recording seems closer here. The ensuing energy is very slightly blunted, however. Still, in the context of the sweep of the whole performance this is petty whinging. The Sorrel Quartet is infinitely responsive, pointing out the modernism (try around 5'10 of this second movement) with great relish. The Twelfth is a challenge for performers and listeners alike – certainly the Sorrels pass with flying colours.
Finally, the Piano Quintet. Here the Chandos release confirms its superiority to the Capriccio one. Martin Roscoe is, I have long felt, an under-appreciated national treasure, unfailingly musical in all he does. He does not disappoint, and his 'tidiness of finger' really impresses in the finale. The highlight of this performance is the threadbare Fugue, whispered conspiratorially at first and rising naturally to its climax. Roscoe can be so delicate here. For 11'01, time is suspended before the spiky Scherzo brings us all back to earth. The recording seems a little boomy in this Scherzo.
It is in the gentler parts that this performance really triumphs. Perhaps some more echt-Slavic utterance in the first movement - so nearly granitic here - would have clinched it. But this remains a most impressive release.
MusicWeb, August 2005
Subtle, intimate readings displaying humanity and a sense of engagement.
Perhaps it’s no surprise to find Stravinsky criticising Prokofiev’s Soviet output as ‘provincial’, but Prokofiev could be equally nonplussed by the lack of aesthetic novelty in Shostakovich. Volume 6 of the Sorrel Quartet’s series gives us two of his outwardly formulaic works framing one of his most audacious, the Twelfth Quartet. It’s a rather peculiar programme, not that this need bother anyone collecting this particular intégrale.
The playing is as idiomatic as you might expect from an ensemble once coached by Rostislav Dubinsky, founder member and first leader of the Borodin Quartet. True, the almost casual opening of the First Quartet is not ideally euphonious and, in the first movement of the Twelfth, there’s a momentary lapse of concentration from the viola, whose expressive swoops elsewhere may not be to all tastes. What matters more is the palpable, very human sense of engagement, something you don’t always get from glitzier groups.
Given that the best recordings of the Piano Quintet are 20 years old and either tucked away or buried altogether, the present account is not unwelcome, though it is relatively small-scale. You’d be lucky to find Sviatoslav Richter with the 1980s Borodin line-up (Melodiya, 11/85R – nla) but Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Fitzwilliam Quartet inhabit a twofer entitled ‘Russian Cello Sonatas’! For something more individual there’s always the previous Chandos version involving Dubinsky’s own Borodin Trio: passionate indeed, if perhaps no longer chamber music. On the present issue it’s the subtle intimacy of the final pay-off one remembers, the warmth of the Maltings acoustic masking any thinness of tone.
Gramophone, October 2005