This is the first installment in the Pacifica Quartet’s highly anticipated, four-volume CD survey of the complete Shostakovich string quartets: The Soviet Experience: String Quartets by Dmitri Shostakovich and his Contemporaries. The Soviet Experience is the first Shostakovich quartet cycle to include works by other important composers of the Soviet era, adding variety and perspective to the listening experience. This superbly performed series of audiophile recordings, produced and engineered by multiple Grammy Award winner Judith Sherman, will appeal to everyone interested in great Russian music of the 20th century. It’s also a great value: each two-CD installment is priced as a single CD.
Shostakovich’s intense String Quartet No. 5 introduces many characteristics that would become common in his later quartets. The String Quartet No. 6 holds surprises beneath its outwardly untroubled themes. The remarkably inventive and compact String Quartet No. 7 signals a significant stylistic change in the composer’s quartet writing. The deeply personal String Quartet No. 8 is the best-known quartet in the entire cycle. Nikolai Miaskovsky is the only major Soviet composer who was also a member of the pre-Revolution generation of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. His masterfully written String Quartet No. 13 demonstrates great ingenuity and craftsmanship within a conventional harmonic language.
The Pacifica Quartet performed the complete Shostakovich cycle to great acclaim in New York and Chicago and at the University of Illinois in Urbana, Ill., during the 2010–2011 season. The Chicago Tribune said, “The remarkable Pacifica Quartet . . . coaxed the music’s unfathomable sorrows, fleeting joys and macabre humor to the surface as if creating it on the spot.” The New York Times called the Pacifica “enterprising and eloquent” and said its Shostakovich installments were “beautifully and powerfully played.” The Pacifica has been demonstrating its prowess with Shostakovich to concert audiences far and wide by performing the Quartet No. 8 on its tour program. The Denver Post said the ensemble “delivered rawness, power, and sensitivity in an authoritative performance that was profoundly haunting and moving.” Canada’s Globe and Mail said, “The Shostakovich . . . was memorably engaged at every layer and level of its discourse.”