July 14, 2011

PACIFICA QUARTET live: Shostakovich String Quartets Opp.110 & 118

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
January 2011
Lincoln Performance Hall
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?


Boom said...


Rob said...

Boom: Thanks for these. I haven't listened yet but, from your opinion, how do these compare to the "supposed" standard set by the Emerson Quartet? To be honest, I don't care for Emerson in almost anything, but, to disagree with you, I do like the Borodin Quartet's rendition of the Shostakovich series.

Boom said...

I listened to the Emerson Qt recordings long time ago, but remember well that I really disliked the typical DG studio sound. (That's on top of my usual dislike of studio recordings in general.)
However, I have Emerson's live recording of Shostakovich's Op.117, and, despite good sound, it is not nearly as impressive in conception and execution as the Pacifica's recordings here. So I am in agreement with your impression of this group. (Although their cellist David Finckel made some fantastic recordings of Beethoven cello sonatas with his wife, the magnificent pianist Wu Han. I hope to upload those at some future point.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for these excellent performances. I heard some fine Beethoven from the Pacifica in Minneapolis, so maybe you heard them on an off engagement.


Nick Limansky said...

I cannot thank you enough for posting these performances. Not only did you turn me on to the Pacifica Quartet but also to the Shostakovich String Quartets. I am very grateful. Thank you!

Boom said...


You are very welcome! If you email me directly (see top of home page for address), I will gladly send you a link for a few additional live performances of Shostakovich's quartets which I think make an exceptionally strong case for this composer's music.