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Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, September 2012

The First is very classical, short…and contained a beauty of concentrated expression in a very concise model. No. 2 is much more expansive…This is a symphonic-like work in the form of a suite.

The Third Quartet is easily the greatest here and one of the most famous…one of the glories of the entire string quartet catalog.

The Fourth Quartet is in a much lighter mood…and it is a work that reflects a great deal of courage and artistic integrity.

The Pacifica Quartet is a marvel in this music, recorded with lots of atmosphere at the University of Illinois. © 2012 Audiophile Audition Read complete review

Paul Corfield Godfrey
MusicWeb International, August 2012

The players start the First Quartet at quite a brisk pace, considerably faster than either the Shostakovich Quartet or the Brodsky Quartet in their complete cycles. This is a more light-hearted reading, reflecting the innocence of the young composer’s first essay in the medium. It is a valid and well-considered approach…

The Third Quartet, which begins the second disc, is given a beautiful sense of mischief by the Pacifica players. This suits the music very well. The performance here makes the tragedy which ensues more unexpected, and gives it greater emotional impact. The attack on the stinging chords which open the third movement are forceful without moving outside the realms of chamber music. The Fourth Quartet—included with the First and Second on the first disc—is given a marvellous performance. There’s a nice line in sly irony for the finale which the Emersons do not match.

As with the first volume in this cycle, the second comes coupled with a quartet by one of Shostakovich’s contemporaries. This serves to set the whole oeuvre in its historical context—hence presumably the CD subtitle The Soviet Experience. The Second Quartet, written at the same time as the composer was working on War and Peace, employs a number of traditional Kabardinian melodies—from the region to which Prokofiev was evacuated during the German invasion. In fact there are certainly deeper elements here. These are fully realised by the players with some extremely agitated passages delivered with all the required panache.

The playing is excellent throughout, with no sense of strain and perfect tuning between the various members of the quartet. They can well withstand the close balance of the recorded sound to which they are subjected. Reviewers of the concert performances by the Pacifica players have hailed them as some of the best ever given. One can well understand their reasoning. Even the understated delivery of the earlier quartets is clearly designed to highlight the development of Shostakovich’s style throughout the cycle. It falls into a deliberate pattern. Certainly there is much to admire in these excellent, civilised and deeply considered performances. The Shostakovich quartets can well tolerate a variety of different interpretations, as is the nature of all great music. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

David Fanning
Gramophone, August 2012

I wondered if the fact that I enjoyed the Prokofiev and Shostakovich’s Third Quartet more than I did the others was down to my finally having tuned in to the Pacifica Quartet’s style. Their playing is always clean and well focused—tonally, technically and interpretatively.

…if you are looking for excellent modern recording and clean playing, plus the bonus of relevant extra repertoire, or if you are allergic to overstatement in Shostakovich, then there is certainly much to enjoy and admire with the Pacificas. © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

Joe Milicia
Enjoy the Music, August 2012

…Cedille offers us two CDs for the price of one, with a bonus quartet by another important Soviet composer, in this case Sergei Prokofiev’s Second…the power and richness of the Pacifica’s performance, combined with the excellence of Cedille’s sound and the bonuses of detailed program notes and striking cover art, make this set a must-have, even for those who already have a complete set of the quartets.

The Second Quartet…is a magnificent work on a grand scale…Both the opening “Overture”…and the final “Theme with Variations” are complex, powerful, moving.

After such dramatic contrasts, the Fourth Quartet (1949) may seem relatively even-tempered: even its tempo markings avoid extremes, with Allegretto for three of the four movements and Andantino for the slow movement (the second). But it is striking for its melancholy beauties, from its subdued opening to its especially tender slow movement, furtive scherzo, and a finale characterized by distinctively Jewish themes at a time when anti-Semitism was official Soviet policy. (Quartets 2, 3 and 4 all have finales that are the longest movement of the work.)

…the warmth, the power, the dynamic contrasts—all captured with vivid realism and clear placement of each instrument by Cedille’s team—make this set one of the standout chamber-music releases of the year.

Mention must be made of the propaganda poster used for the CD cover. Titled The Red Army Broom Will Completely Sweep Away the Scum, it displays excellent graphic design, high military fashion sense, and a hilarity only partly intentional. © 2012 Enjoy the Music Read complete review

Stephen Estep
American Record Guide, July 2012

2 has some really excellent moments; the melodies in I are exquisitely presented…IV finally has the tonal and dynamic variety we have looked for; the playing is very affecting. 4:II shows the Pacifica players at their most thoughtful, and IV has more detail in the articulation and phrasing…this is a decent set at a reasonable price…The Soviet propaganda posters on the cover are a terrific touch. Easy-to-read notes in English. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, July 2012

Shostakovich’s quartets span a period of 36 years; the first was written in 1938, the last in 1974. The four quartets heard here are the composer’s earliest, though in the overall chronology of his works, you could say that he got a relatively late start in the quartet-writing business. He’d already written his first five symphonies by 1937, before his first quartet was even a twinkle in his ear.

The First Quartet, for the most part, is a bouncy, one might almost say joyful, thing.

In every single movement of Shostakovich’s quartets and in the Prokofiev, the Pacifica Quartet penetrates to the very heart and soul of the music. What stands out…is the way in which the players probe for and reveal amazing details…It’s this intellectual curiosity to explore, wedded to largesse of emotional expressivity that makes these performances special.

…fervently enthusiastic recommendation intended. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

Olivia Giovetti
WQXR (New York), June 2012

While it is argued that Beethoven perfected this musical form, coming hot on his heels is Dmitri Shostakovich, whose 15 string quartets are often regarded as the windows into the composer’s tortured soul.

The power of the music on its own terms is undeniable. The first quartet owes much to Beethoven and shows Shostakovich still discovering the form, eagerly and devotedly.

These four quartets (rounded out by Prokofiev’s turbulent String Quartet No. 20) are the focus of the Pacifica Quartet’s second installment of The Soviet Experience, a multi-album series that will feature their bracing, sensitive renditions of Shostakovich’s quartets, along with works by his contemporaries. © 2012 WQXR (New York) Read complete review

David Hurwitz, June 2012

The brief First Quartet has just the right combination of innocence with hints of something darker just below the surface. The much more substantial Second Quartet, with its dramatic Recitative and Romance second movement that threatens to come unhinged but never quite does, is very powerfully projected, as is the intense Theme and Variations finale. The Fourth Quartet, in its finale, features one of Shostakovich’s first flirtations with Jewish music, and the Pacifica players capture the music’s quasi-tragic mood with unflinching honesty and (as in all these performances) impeccable ensemble, as naturally balanced and engineered as we have any right to hope.

This is turning out to be a terrific series. © 2012 Read complete review

Jeremy Eichler, June 2012

Recently out is this robust second volume devoted to the Quartets Nos. 1-4. These Shostakovich works have been recorded elsewhere with greater expressionist fury, and with a deeper (and bleaker) sense of how this music reflects the fathomless tragedy behind the Soviet experiment. But rarely do they come across with form and content so organically integrated, and with playing that exudes this wedding of youthful electricity and interpretive insight.

By turns thrilling, anguished, and sublime, Shostakovich’s cycle of 15 Quartets stands distinctly as an artist’s private testimony, a kind of intimate landscape set apart from the monumental public grandeur of the composer’s 15 Symphonies. Here, the Pacifica offers a duly hard-hitting account of the epochal war-shadowed Third Quartet, lending weight to a reminiscence from violist Fyodor Druzhinin quoted in the liner notes.

For listeners already acquainted with these works, the Pacifica’s probing and sensitive account of the more overlooked Second Quartet may prove the revelation on this release. Happily, something of the Chicago festival’s wide-angle lens has also slipped into this recording project, as the Pacifica has been mixing other contemporary works into the Shostakovich brew. The current release features Prokofiev’s well-known String Quartet No. 2, written, like most of the other music here, in the 1940s. © 2012 Read complete review

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, June 2012

The Pacifica Quartet (Simin Ganatra & Sibbi Bernhardsson, violins; Masumi Per Rostad, viola; Brandon Vamos, cello) play all these works with spirit, impressive technical skill, and a genuine sense for Shostakovich’s manic-depressive mood swings and mixture of humor and sarcasm. In fact, they seem to concede nothing, either interpretively or technically…Their overwhelming vehemence and sense of foreboding in third movement of the Third Quartet are chilling, while sending chills up your spine. This is playing of the highest order!

Here the coupling is the very excellent Prokofiev Quartet #2, a work in which the composer uses Kabardinian melodies…The Second is a bright, optimistic work, with a lovely central movement that offers a mesmerizing theme. The Pacifica’s account clearly evidences this ensemble’s ability to seamlessly move from Shostakovich’s darker, lonelier world to Prokofiev’s brighter and more melodically appealing realm.

The Pacifica players deftly capture the rhytmic vitality of the first movement, as well as the beautiful exoticism of the second and the brilliance and bounce of the finale. The Pacifica players really dig into Prokofiev, grasping his colorful musical persona, from its acidic humor and sarcasm to its bewitchingly spellbinding lyricism. The sound reproduction on both discs is extremely vivid. The album notes by cellist, writer and Shostakovich scholar Elizabeth Wilson are very informative and interesting. Highest recommendations! © 2012 Classical Net Read complete review

Norman Lebrecht
La Scena Musicale, May 2012

The US-based Pacifica Quartet takes a careful, depoliticised approach to the most intimate personal utterances of the besieged composer, who did not start writing quartets until Stalin threatened his life in 1935. Sheer beauty justifies the neutral tactic…the interpretation is fully thought-through than the Emersons and the sound is outstanding. There is a bonus quartet—Prokofiev’s second. © 2012 The Lebrecht Report/La Scena Musicale

Terry Robbins
The WholeNote, May 2012

This time, the four Shostakovich quartets Nos.1-4 are paired with the String Quartet No. 2 of Sergei Prokofiev, and the performances by the Pacifica Quartet once again show their great affinity for the music of this country and this period. The booklet notes and cover art are again outstanding. © 2012 The WholeNote Read complete review

Bob Neill
Positive Feedback Online, May 2012

The Pacifica Quartet…understand how a modernist quartet is supposed to sound.

…I’m especially captivated by the Pacificas, who truly seem to get both the mind and heart of the composer [Shostakovich]. The lines are strong and clear and there is plenty between them as well. Severity and passion strike me as being in perfect balance. Never too wiry, never too warm.

I attribute most of this to the musicians, but I’m sure much admired recording engineer Judith Sherman plays a significant role as well. © 2012 Positive Feedback Online

John von Rhein
The Classical Review, April 2012

With their youthful dynamism, complete technical assurance and probing musicality, the Pacifica are eminently suited for this ambitious undertaking. Music that is replete with unfathomable sorrows, fleeting joys and macabre humor is not merely played, but lived in, as if it were being created on the spot. These players, highly attuned to each other as they are, never sacrifice rhythmic precision or quality of sound to the excitement of the moment; but neither do they hold back the propulsive surges of adrenalin when called for.

Shostakovich[’s] Quartet No. 1 in C…heaves a palpable sigh of relief. Musically thinner than later entries in the series, it shows him learning the ropes of string quartet writing and is interesting mainly for scattered pre-echoes of his mature style. The Pacifica find just the right expressive tone for the piece, not too light, not too knowing.

The composer found his distinctive voice with Quartet No. 2 in A (1944), a four-movement essay of quasi-symphonic scope, rich with striking musical ideas forcefully developed. Over the soft drone of colleagues Sibbi Bernhardsson, violin, Masumi Per Rostad, viola, and Brandon Vamos, cello, first violinist Simin Ganatra sings the long recitative of the second movement with finely controlled intensity. The waltz and theme variations elicit a winning fusion of energy and eloquence.

Shostakovich composed his Quartet No. 3 in F (1946) soon after his anguished, wartime Eighth Symphony. The Pacifica’s razor-sharp ensemble playing is a thing of wonder as the players trace the banal little major-minor-mode ditty that opens this five-movement masterpiece through various harmonic and canonic twists and turns. The brutal march demands and gets the utmost in implacable ferocity of attack, set off by a mournful Adagio and a finale in which geniality and gloom dance an eerie pas de deux.

Quartet No. 4 in D (1949)…music’s wistful evocation of Eastern European Jewish folk music finds the Pacifica players responding to one another almost extra-sensorily; minute adjustments of dynamics and balance are subsumed into the overarching span of their musical conversation. Once again Ganatra shapes her elegiac romance (in the Andantino second movement) with great sensitivity.

The searching insights the Pacifica musicians bring to the four Shostakovich quartets carry over into their winning account of Prokofiev’s Second String Quartet (1942).

Stylistically, it’s more conservative, less original, than Shostakovich’s works of that period, although its fine craftsmanship cannot be faulted. Ganatra and colleagues are fully inside the substance and spirit of this music.

Having reached the halfway point, the Pacifica’s Shostakovich cycle already is shaping up as definitive, even in a field stocked with such formidable Russian contenders as the Borodin and Beethoven String Quartets. © 2012 The Classical Review Read complete review

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, April 2012

…Volume Two is now out…and it continues the definitive performance affinity that Pacifica has developed for the Shostakovich Quartets. Needless to say they work well together as a program.

As before the Pacifica Quartet shows a tremendous verve in the fortissimo-allegro movements, a contemplative somberness as appropriate on the quieter andante and adagio movements.

The Pacifica Quartet brings out the subtle nuances along with the bold strokes. In that they are virtually unsurpassed.

Don’t miss these performances. © 2012 Gapplegate Classical-Modern Review Read complete review

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