String Quartet No.8, Op.110
String Quartet No.10, Op.118
P a c i f i c a Q u a r t e t
Portland State University
The playing in this live recording by the Pacifica Quartet is surprisingly refined and focused, with absolutely state-of-the art recorded sound. If you respond to this music of communal apartments, food shortages, endless winters, and the ever-present smell of fear - then you are likely to enjoy these immaculate performances a great deal. I certainly did, but primarily because the music is presented here far more abstractly than in the supposedly "authentic" performances by Soviet (Russian) musicians. The latter make me feel like I'm stuck in Murmansk for the winter, with nothing but Tarkovsky films playing at the only local movie theater. Which is to say that the music of Shostakovich, not very interesting to begin with, only loses in performances which see relentless gloom as its principal message.
I described the refinement of the present performances as 'surprising' because the two Beethoven quartets performed at the same concerts were pure embarrassment: scrappy and whiny tone, relentlessly poor intonation (e.g., in Op.59 #3), bad ensemble. Perhaps the Pacifica players were saving all their energy and concentration for the Shostakovich quartets, while treating Beethoven as an insignificant filler... Incidentally, the audience was dead silent during the Shostakovich quartets, but produced torrents of tubercular coughing during the Beethoven pieces. Were they reacting to the ugly sounds coming from the stage?