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SHOSTAKOVICH, D.: String Quartets Nos. 5-8 / MYASKOVSKY, N.: String Quartet No. 13 (The Soviet Experience, Vol. 1) (Pacifica Quartet)


Cedille CDR90000-127

   Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, May 2012
   MusicWeb International, March 2012
   The WholeNote, March 2012
   Fanfare, March 2012
   San Francisco Classical Voice, January 2012
   The New Yorker, January 2012
   Fanfare, January 2012
   BBC Music Magazine, January 2012
   San Jose Mercury News, December 2011
   The Classical Review, December 2011
   Chicago Tribune, December 2011
   Gramophone, December 2011
   The New York Times, November 2011
   La Scena Musicale, November 2011
   Positive Feedback Online, November 2011
   ClassicsToday.com, October 2011
   Classical Candor, October 2011

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Rick Anderson
Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, May 2012

Dmitri Shostakovich’s string quartets remain some of the most fascinating…works in the classical repertoire…There’s no question, however, that they offer a fascinating listening experience on a purely musical level, not to mention a significant challenge to the musicians that take them on. The Pacifica Quartet is more than equal to that challenge, and their pairing of Shostokovich’s quartets nos. 5 through 8 with Miaskovsky’s quartet no 13 is an inspired move…It’s an excellent program all around. © 2012 Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist Read complete review



Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, March 2012

The String Quartet No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 92 comes from one of the most extreme periods of Stalinist terror in Russia. It was premièred just after Stalin’s death in late 1953 but had been written a year earlier, in 1952. At the start of the first movement the viola’s first four notes are a combination of the composer’s personal D-S-C-H motif. A complex and challenging work, the three movement quartet is performed without a break. In the central movement Andante/Andantino, attacca—the emotional core—the Pacifica convey a sense of total desolation like a bleak landscape, ghostly and unforgiving.

When the String Quartet No. 6 in G major, Op. 101 was written in 1956 Stalin had been dead for three years. Composers experienced a thawing of the cultural restrictions. At this time Shostakovich was emotionally distraught due to the sudden death of his wife Nina in the winter of 1954 with the additional grief of his mother dying the next year. However, in 1956 shortly before completing the score Shostakovich had quickly married Margarita Kainova. Cast in four movements the generally melodious score is lighter, certainly far less complex than its predecessor and it conveys a restrained beauty. In the third movement—Lento, attacca, the soul of the quartet, a Passacaglia—the playing has a deep concentration and intensity ensuring an uncomfortable journey and an aching fatigue.

The marriage to Margarita was unsuccessful and they were soon divorced in 1959. Composed in 1960 he dedicated his String Quartet No. 7 in F sharp minor, Op. 108 to his first wife Nina who been dead for five years. Significant is his choice of F sharp minor—a key which is conventionally related with pain and suffering. It seems appropriate in reflecting the composer’s grief. The score is the shortest of all Shostakovich’s quartets and lasts here for just over12 minutes. This concise three movement structure with its conflicting moods has been said to mirror the ups and downs of his marriage to Nina. There’s remarkably expressive playing from the Pacifica in the Finale marked Allegro—Allegretto (Adagio) commencing with a Fugue—wild, angry and briskly energetic. It represents what could be described as the barking of an aggressive dog. From 2:40 the music calms and regains composure yet a sense of unease is never far away.

Extremely popular in recital and on record is the String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110 from 1960. It bears a dedication to ‘The Victims of Fascism and War’. It was written, it seems, in a just a few days whilst on a working trip outside Soviet Russia in the Communist State of East Germany near Dresden. Shostakovich had seen at first hand the destruction that Allied bombing had inflicted on Dresden. Set with numerous self-quotations including the near incessant use of the D-S-C-H motif the score could be described as a musical autobiography of Shostakovich. The ferocious short second movement Allegro molto, attacca is strikingly played: just bursting with aggressive and dynamic energy. After the flurry of the D-S-C-H motif I was stuck by the abrupt appearance at 0:55 of the Jewish theme from the composer’s Second Piano Trio. Of significant impact are disconcerting fortissimo chords that open the fourth movement Largo, attacca. This is followed by music of a deep and uncomfortable quality that seems to reflect weariness and disillusion. In the Finale marked Largo the Pacifica create a heart-wrenching feeling of intense desolation and wretchedness. This is perhaps a representation of the composer’s world-weariness. Conspicuously the D-S-C-H motif is heard repeatedly throughout with the movement virtually built around it.

Miaskovsky’s score is far more conservative than that of Shostakovich, being mellow and generally optimistic in mood rather than anxiety-laden and tormented. To my ears Miaskovsky’s A minor Quartet has similarities to the quartets of say Borodin and Glazunov. Highly lyrical, the opening movement Moderato of the String Quartet No.13 is passionate and contains a lovely if rather forlorn recurring theme. Briskly rhythmic and upbeat with a poignant central section the Presto fantastico could serve as a Scherzo. Beautifully performed by the Pacifica the slow movement Andante con moto—a romance—is possessed by a heartbreaking mood that could easily depict the pain of lovers parting. Bristling with melody in the Finale, Molto vivo, energico the Pacifica drive the music forward vigorously and with evident determination.

On Cedille in this music from the ‘Soviet Experience’ the Pacifica Quartet provide performances of great merit. Throughout, their playing is splendidly consistent, always intelligent and generates a real intensity that suits Shostakovich’s music perfectly. The performances feel spontaneous and fresh. I was comfortable with the choice of tempi and was delighted by the first class unity and intonation of these performances. The sound quality is most impressive in both clarity and balance.

The essay in the booklet is the finest I have read for some time. The Soviet Experience series has got off to an impressive start with these excellent performances. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review



Terry Robbins
The WholeNote, March 2012

The Pacifica Quartet…have obviously developed a deep understanding of these works. The four quartets Nos. 5 to 8 are included on this first volume and the Pacifica members are terrific throughout, scaling the heights of the music as convincingly as they plumb the depths. The overwhelmingly autobiographical—and achingly personal—Quartet No.8 Op.110 is particularly effective. © 2012 The WholeNote Read complete review



Peter J. Rabinowitz
Fanfare, March 2012

the Pacifica’s ensemble is flawless, and while they can rip you apart with the hammer blows at the beginning of the Eighth’s fourth movement, they’re capable of enrapturing you with their timbral beauty as well… © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare



Michelle Dulak Thomson
San Francisco Classical Voice, January 2012

this is brilliant…great…marvelous work. I doubt anyone would place it at mid-20th-c.

The Pacifica Quartet, throughout, is magnificent… © 2012 San Francisco Classical Voice Read complete review



Russell Platt
The New Yorker, January 2012

11 Recordings for 2011

[Pacifica Quartet] gives performances of both power and perception, finding the grace and fire in Shostakovich’s enigmatic Fifth and Sixth Quartets and delivering the celebrated Seventh and Eighth Quartets with overwhelming force. © 2012 The New Yorker Read complete review



Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, January 2012

As with everything I’ve heard the Pacifica Quartet do, the players’ technical address is impeccable, and their instinct for projecting a pitch-perfect sense of the period, style, and native cultural characteristics of whatever music is in front of them is unerring. This, in my book, makes the Pacifica Quartet the most versatile American string quartet on the scene today. I hope they hurry up and finish this new Shostakovich cycle so they can move on to Beethoven. They’re more than ready for it, and it’s time. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare




David Nice
BBC Music Magazine, January 2012

The Pacifica’s sense of musical argument is always impressive © 2012 BBC Music Magazine



Richard Scheinin
San Jose Mercury News, December 2011

Best classical album of 2011

The Pacifica is a hot ensemble, racking up accolades for a reason. On this 2-disc set, it offers four Shostakovich quartets (Nos. 5–8) and one by Nikolai Miaskovsky, bringing fearsome beauty and sparkle to the task. © 2011 San Jose Mercury News See complete list



Michael Quinn
The Classical Review, December 2011

Throughout, the Pacifica Quartet play with a virtuosity tempered by lithe gracefulness, superbly controlled emotions, and real feeling and flair. The recorded sound is excellent, and William Hussey’s analytical liner note offers breadth and detail.

A vivid beginning to what promises to be an altogether essential cycle. © 2011 The Classical Review Read complete review



John von Rhein
Chicago Tribune, December 2011

Listeners who thrilled to the Pacifica’s intensely felt concert performances of all 15 Shostakovich quartets last season can relive the experience through this first installment of what promises to be the full cycle on CD, a two-disc set that includes another notable quartet from the Soviet era. © 2011 Chicago Tribune



Ken Smith
Gramophone, December 2011

Miaskovsky proves that being traditional need not be at the cost of musical interest…it succeeds best in placing Shostakovich as a blazing revolutionary by comparison.

To read the complete review, please visit Gramophone online.



Vivien Schweitzer
The New York Times, November 2011

25 Records of 2011

The excellent Pacifica Quartet, which has demonstrated its empathy with Shostakovich’s music in recent concert performances, offers electrifying interpretations of his Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Quartets. The group conveys every shade of Shostakovich’s extreme emotional palette in a set—Volume 1 of a series called “The Soviet Experience”—that also includes a stirring rendition of Miaskovsky’s String Quartet No. 13 in A minor. See complete list



Norman Lebrecht
La Scena Musicale, November 2011

The Pacifica Quartet, recorded in a Midwest winter, bring an authentic bleakness to the middle quartets, written at a time when the composer lived in fear of arrest and death. There’s a lovely end-bonus of Miaskovsky’s 13th quartet in A minor.



Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, November 2011

An auspicious beginning to what should be a great series. © 2011 Positive Feedback Online Read complete review




David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, October 2011

These performances, every bit as fine as those, would be excellent by themselves, but they do risk getting lost in the discographic shuffle. So it was an inspired idea to pair them with other important works in the same medium by Shostakovich’s contemporaries. I’m not sure if this adds up to a “Soviet Experience,” whatever that is, but it does make for some great listening.

The four Shostakovich quartets offered here constitute the heart of the cycle, culminating in the incredibly popular (amazing because musically it’s very sad) Eighth Quartet. In this latter work, the Pacifica Quartet finds a perfect balance between technical polish and raw intensity, nowhere more so than in the ferocious second movement. In Quartet No. 5, with its complex outer movements, the players pace the music with an unerring feeling for tension and relaxation. Even the slender Seventh, Shostakovich’s shortest quartet, has an unusual measure of cogency and expressive depth.

Miaskovsky’s Thirteenth Quartet, his last, is a splendid work: conservative, to be sure, but so beautifully written. The scherzo, marked “Presto fantastico,” displays a vast quantity of color and texture, but then the entire work belies the notion that the quartet medium tends toward the monochrome. The thematic invention is also surprisingly arresting for this composer; some of the symphonies seem bland in comparison. Once again, it would be difficult to imagine a finer performance, and the engineering allows the players’ attractive sonority and well-balanced ensemble work to speak with total naturalness. A great start to a very promising series.



John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, October 2011

…Pacifica players perform with enthusiasm, passion, grace, precision, and, above all, virtuosity. …No. 8 is probably the most recognizable, the most personal, and the most tragic. The Pacifica players give it an ardent, heartfelt interpretation. …the sonics are exceptionally smooth and natural. There is a clear separation of instruments without pinning each to the wall for minute examination…the effect is fairly effective in terms of midrange transparency, with a touch of hall ambience for added realism. I like it.






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