The Guardian - ***** Carducci Quartet/Shostakovich 15 review – truly extraordinary stamina in a musical marathon

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, The Globe, London
The Carduccis maintained astonishing intensity throughout the complete cycle of Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets – performed in a single day

Most ensembles gung-ho enough to attempt a complete cycle of the 15 Shostakovich quartets – including, on other occasions, the Carducci Quartet – might spread them across a weekend, and still call it intensive. But that’s for wimps. Here, on the 40th anniversary of the composer’s death, the Carduccis put the quartets end to end in a single day: nearly seven hours of music, in four concerts with barely an hour between each. It demanded unusual focus from the audience, several changes of the Playhouse candles – and truly extraordinary stamina from the players. Between the later quartets it was as if the audience was cheering them around the last laps of a marathon.

Of course, Shostakovich never envisaged his works presented like this. In the exuberant earliest quartets the peaks of intensity became relentless, the players making no concessions to the long haul ahead. Indeed, perhaps the first four quartets could have been approached more as one single score, the Carduccis grading the fierceness of their playing accordingly rather than gunning for each climax. There were few moments of truly soft playing early on – but lots of crisp little dance passages that bounced off the coiled spring of Emma Denton’s cello, lots of yearning, finely judged melodies and deft mood swings. And the loudest episodes could be thrilling: the start of the Quartet No 4 made the Playhouse’s balconies ring like the body of a supersized stringed instrument.

Violinist Matthew Denton’s occasional explanatory chats hit a false note once or twice thanks to the audience’s seeming determination to find jokes in them. But hearing these quartets all together revealed not only that none of them is a weak link, but that there is a surprising amount of sunlight amid the gloom, especially in the mellower pair of works that followed the coruscating Eighth.
The Carduccis maintained astonishing intensity, right through to the focused stillness of No 15. This was, as advertised, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime event, and next to it everyone else’s Shostakovich anniversary programming seems merely dutiful.

A candle for Shostakovich: the Carducci Quartet’s Globe marathon *****

By Mark Pullinger, 10 August 2015,

“It’s been a journey,” is an empty expression, often quoted by celebrities as they’re booted off the latest reality TV programme. Yet it accurately summed up the experience of hearing all fifteen Shostakovich string quartets in a single day. What the experience was like for the Carducci Quartet, performers of this marathon feat on the 40th anniversary of the composer’s death, is anyone’s guess. Performed chronologically in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, The Globe’s candlelit Jacobean theatre, they made an astonishing impression in such concentrated form. Almost autobiographical, they chart an intensely personal journey through Shostakovich’s output. Our day was structured into four concerts, a brief interval inserted into each, with a break of an hour in between. Close on seven hours of concentrated listening on the cramped, hard bench seating of the theatre added an element of endurance test not entirely out of keeping with the gritty, austere character of the music. Illuminated by six candelabra, the Carduccis kept us enthralled, making light of the physical demands placed on both performers and audience.

When tackling a marathon, beginners are counselled against the dangers of setting off too hard, too quickly. There was absolutely no question of the Carduccis pacing themselves! The First Quartet may sound spring-like and trouble-free, but when one considers that it comes after Pravda’s condemnation of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, it shows Shostakovich was already learning to “play the game”. By the time the Carduccis hit the Second, all cylinders were firing at a frightening degree of intensity, which they maintained all day. Highlights included a tremendous performance of the String Quartet no. 3 in F major, a “war quartet” given subtitles which the composer later removed. There was playful treatment of the first movement. The Allegro non troppo third movement was fabulously aggressive, full of iron pizzicatos and flying bow-hair. The leader, Matthew Denton, provided strong, wiry tone, leaping from his chair at several points during the klezmer touches in the finale. This was high octane, turbo-charged playing.

The Fifth Quartet, composed just after Stalin’s death in 1953, saw the first appearance of the composer’s monogram – the DSCH motto (in a permutation, here introduced by the viola, of B-C-D-E flat). This motto represented the composer’s defiance against tyranny, also heard in the Tenth Symphony from the same year. The DSCH motto reappears in various guises through the next three quartets, until becoming the pillar on which the magnificent Eighth Quartet rests. The Carduccis played the Eighth for all its tormented worth, almost an autobiographical suicide note, the three note “knocking at the door” representing the calls made to many artists in the middle of the night, who then mysteriously disappeared. Other moments seared into my memory include the pithy, biting Seventh, the William Tell galop references in the Ninth, the glassy sul ponticello effects of the Tenth, and Eoin Schmidt-Martin’s extended viola solo and the spectral ending of the Thirteenth. Throughout, cellist Emma Denton impressed, the growling bass engine of the foursome, her hair tossing and tangling in the cello’s tuning pegs. She also brought the Fifth to a balmy close. Michelle Fleming provided glowing warmth to the significant second violin solo contributions to the Eleventh, the later quartets occupying a world with a more astringent sound.

The intimacy of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is unforgiving in terms of intonation slips and scuffs, but it mattered little in such flinty repertoire. As they grew accustomed to the acoustics of a nearly-full playhouse, the players recalibrated their dynamic range to find a quieter intensity in the later quartets, culminating in an utterly absorbing account of the introspective Fifteenth – a remarkable work in six movements, each of them slow – to bring the day to a hushed close. The level of audience concentration – and consideration – was truly admirable. Yes, an endurance test for all concerned, but it was a privilege to share their journey.

The Carducci Quartet’s Magnificent Tribute to Shostakovich
August 11, 2015 - Seen and Heard International

Shostakovich died on 9 August 1975, and the Carducci Quartet is already deep into its ‘Shostakovich 15’ project. In 2015 they are playing ten complete cycles of the composer’s fifteen string quartets, in the UK and abroad, including this whole day devoted to the complete cycle at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre in London on the exact fortieth anniversary of the composer’s death.
Thus we heard Quartets 1-4 at 11 a.m., 5-8 at 2 p.m., 9-12 at 5 p.m., and 13-15 at 8 p.m. Each concert had a 15-minute interval and there were gaps of about 50 to 80 minutes between each concert. Thus we could refresh body and mind and renew concentration levels, yet still maintain momentum. Nearing the end there was a certain elation and camaraderie, audience members urging each other on like trench warfare veterans – “one last push” said a stranger to me as we returned to our seats after the final interval.
Of course the musicians needed those breaks also, and there was much audience talk of amazement at the sheer stamina and musical focus the Carducci Quartet brought to this huge undertaking. Given recent news on the sports pages, there was even some dark speculation in the later breaks about their possible use of banned substances, enabling the marathon to be completed. But these splendid players sounded at all times as if they were sustained purely by this magnificent music itself, which is still, after all, the most effective of all mind-altering substances.
From the folk-inspired First Quartet to the rarefied Fifteenth with its sequence of six adagios, the Carducci had the full measure of all this varied music. Their qualities as an ensemble are well known by now, and this cycle needs them all. First and most fundamental, they have an unerring sense of the right tempo. True the music is a central part of the chamber music repertoire these days and performing traditions are well established, at least up to Quartet number twelve. But the tempi still have to be made to sound spontaneous and right for the occasion and the space the musicians are in; this was achieved. Also the Carducci are not afraid of the extreme tempi the composer sometimes asks for, whether fast or slow. Both extremes are challenging: the joyous coda of the First Quartet was dispatched with dazzling aplomb and accuracy, and the slow moving music of the last quartets still had a crucial sense of just barely perceptible flow. “Play it so that the flies drop dead in mid air and the audience leaves out of sheer boredom” advised the composer about the Fifteenth. In the Wanamaker both the bipeds and the winged creatures stayed just where they were while that music gripped us.
Dynamics must also need some adjustment in this space, where the audience is so close. A rehearsal clip on their website shows the Carducci rehearsing for this event in situ, but in the empty Playhouse it sounds moderately reverberant. Once the bodies were in, it perhaps became drier. This might account for a sense that, brilliantly as the first four quartets were played, much of the playing sounded mezzo forte. Indeed the compelling opening of the Fourth Quartet, which after its insouciant start so rapidly screws up the tension, had the rafters ringing. In the following concerts the players seemed to sense they could dare to use quieter dynamics and still be heard at the top of the place. The sudden drop from a frantic forte to a thread of whispered pianissimo in the second movement of the Eighth Quartet was an electrifying moment and one not replicable in every auditorium. The many Jewish folk elements were really well characterized whenever they occurred in the cycle, bringing the rustic eastern sounds of the shtetl into the synagogue-like candlelit warmth of the unique Wanamaker Playhouse.
Rhythmic flair, so essential in Russian music generally, was in plentiful supply not least in the emphatic handling of the many instances across these works of Shostakovich’s compulsive rhythmic tics, like the insistent anapaests that open the eastern-flavoured theme of the Fourth’s finale, as well as the swift Rossinian ones of its scherzo and of the Allegretto of the Ninth. There is often a frantically driven quality to these works, at least in the early and middle ones, which the Carducci Quartet relished, generating great excitement by a combination of swift tempi, precise articulation and strict metrical control, such that the close of a couple of the fast movements brought a whoop of delight as the audience increasingly became part of the whole experience. As an audience we came to spectate, but ended wanting to participate.
It is well known that Shostakovich reacted to the individual qualities of players within the Beethoven Quartet, the group who premiered all these works after the first of them. This, and his frequent use of solo recitative, gave members of the Carducci Quartet opportunities to display their skill and sensitivity, and they did not disappoint. That the leader, Matthew Denton, is a fine artist was clear in the first concert, when his vibrato-rich (hooray!) and long emotional solo in the Adagio of the Second Quartet was very affecting. His dexterity in many a rapid passage was impressive all day too, though his colleagues lacked nothing in panache when required to echo him in the Seventh Quartet. The violist Eoin Schmidt-Martin in the Thirteenth, and cellist Emma Denton in the Fourteenth (and when opening the Twelfth), both showed what beguiling and burnished colours are available to the lower instruments, and both made the twelve-note rows they announce sound more inviting than forbidding. Second violin Michelle Fleming began the last quartet of all with a solo of exquisite poise and poignancy, launching that opening Elegy of the Fifteenth into a breathless hush that suggested we had ceased to be an audience, but had rather become co-celebrants at a rite of passage, forty years to the day after the composer left us.
The Carducci had many of these quartets in their repertoire prior to this project, and added several of the later ones specifically for ‘Shostakovich 15’. Yet no-one present would have guessed that, for they sounded as if they had played all these works all their lives. For many of the grey-haired in the audience (like me), the long-distant UK live or broadcast premieres of these late works, back when the Soviet context was still a reality, were among the great musical events of our younger days, even if the bleakness bewildered us at first. But to hear them together at the end of the whole cycle gave us a new perspective. Yes of course there is much haunted and haunting slow music, but somehow this death-shrouded art ultimately became life affirming. It was as if we had heard one enormous string quartet, well over six hours long, with numbers Twelve to Fifteen a vast and transfiguring coda.
Although it is still possible to see the Carducci described as a young group, they will in fact celebrate 20 years together in 2017 – with a Beethoven cycle. But there is still time to hear them in these works as this ‘Shostakovich 15’ project takes the cycle to Aldeburgh, (26 & 27 September), Cardiff (3 & 4 October), Cork (5-8 November) and Washington DC (15 & 22 November). But if you really want to silence those of us still droning on about what we heard at the Globe, you could – if you hurry – always counter with “Oh yes, I caught up with them in South America” (Neiva, Colombia 19-22 August). If you can’t get to any of those concerts, seek out that Signum disc, which is a real gem and the selection of works (4, 8, 11) ideal as a taster. When they complete the set (one hopes in time for their 2017 anniversary), it will surely become one of the leading versions of a now much-recorded cycle, such is their identification – and by now close familiarity – with this music.
At the Wanamaker, as the astonishing, time-suspending Fifteenth quartet ended morendo (a final marking shared with nine of the other fourteen), silence followed for several solemn and hushed moments before the deserved ovation and elation swelled forth – the players later said they were elated too, both by the reception and the sense of growing communion with the audience. As we trailed out into the summer night, still buoyed up by this great music and a unique experience, someone was heard to say, apparently without irony, “What a pity he didn’t write more quartets.” This garnered him a few quizzical looks from those who needed release from the Globe’s backless benches, but one sensed what he meant. We had been in a world we were somehow reluctant to leave. We were still reluctant to relinquish this universe, which is not one of unrelieved bleakness. It’s also one of sorrow for sure (funeral marches), of equivocal dancing (sardonic waltzes), of terror (violent scherzos), of graphic imagery (falling bombs, nocturnal knocks on the door), of innocence and beauty (often soon undermined), and of love and friendship (eloquent moments specifically for dedicatees); in other worlds the mirror of all our lives.
Thank you, Carducci Quartet, and thank you, Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich.
Roy Westbrook

Review: Shostakovich Quartet Cycle, ***** Carducci Quartet at Syde Manor - Cheltenham Festival 29/06/15 

These young people perform with an empathy which is truly awesome, and with a skill which makes light of the huge technical demands Shostakovich imposes upon his players.The Tithe Barn at Syde Manor, nestling deep in the Cotswolds between Birdlip Hill and Cirencester, is a gem of a venue. It's comfortable, airy, and has a fabulous acoustic. This year's Cheltenham Music Festival pre-launched itself in style with a brave traverse through all 15 of Shostakovich's string quartets played with engaging enthusiasm, emotional commitment, and awesome physical stamina by the charming and immensely gifted Carducci Quartet. These young people perform with an empathy which is truly awesome (eye-contact is rarely needed), and with a skill which makes light of the huge technical demands Shostakovich imposes upon his players, whether in taking them up to the stratospheres, or digging through repeated note-patterns, or creating the quasi-orchestral textures set up by hugely taxing multiple-stopping over varied note-values. Their odyssey was a triumph, and such a concentrated trawl brought an awareness of both the consistency and variety of Shostakovich's language, as well as the references to his output in other formats. We sympathised with his political perils during the Stalinist regime, we grasped his gradual influencing by Jewish music, and all the time we admired the strength of his indomitable character, sardonic, witty and despairing, all conveyed by the remarkable Carduccis.
Christopher Morley - Birmingham Post

Début performance in city launches Shostakovich anniversary celebration

Glyn Mon Hughes -

When you’re visiting someone for the first time, it’s probably just as well that you make a good impression – or else you may not be asked back. If that’s what the Carducci String Quartet was trying to do on their début visit to Liverpool, then they did all the right things.  They mesmerised the audience with their performance of the second of Beethoven’s "Razumovsky" quartets, so much so that they were forced to sit down and perform an encore, which turned out to be a little irreverent Shostakovich, in the shape of the Rondo Polka.
This concert included the Fourth Quartet in D major, Op 83. It’s one of those works which was held back until after Stalin’s death in 1953 – it was written in 1949 - and yet is one of the more mild-mannered of the composer’s works for this ensemble (Carduccis in Shostakovich mood pictured right by Tom Barnes).The introverted, intense playing by the quartet in the Allegretto opening movement brought a particular feeling of pathos to the performance, almost asking the audience to sympathise with the agonies the composer must have felt after the intensity of the criticism from the Soviet authorities.  They brought a constant questioning to the performance, building to an explosive climax.
There was some glorious playing from the cello in the poignant and searching Andantino, helping to reveal the beautiful and artful lines developed by Shostakovich. The muted Scherzo was understated and yet the quartet managed to underline the potent energy always surging beneath the surface while the finale just burst forth. Particularly striking were the unison passages at the central climax with, again, some more haunting cello solos.
The concert opened with Haydn’s E flat Major Quartet, Op 33 No 2, the "Joke". The opening Allegro Moderato was a perfectly civilised conversation between four friends, full of joy and almost flirtatious.The Scherzo was full of humour, tempered with a very sweet and innocuous trio though the high point must have been the slow movement. The serene opening duo between cello and viola was a moment which was hardly equalled in the entire concert. And the joke? The audience did fall for it: rapturous applause over the continued playing. It works every time!

Irish Examiner - CIT Cork School Of Music 4/2/15
**** by Declan Townsend

Cork Orchestral Society’s first presentation of the 2015 season brought the always-impressive Carducci Quartet back to Cork for the first concert of a series in which they will play all 15 string quartets by Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich.
This series will bring the two husband and wife pairings to a huge variety of venues on three continents and will culminate in London’s Globe Theatre, where they will play all 15 pieces in one day.
Music lovers in the south of Ireland who missed this performance should absolutely not miss the Carducci Quartet’s return visit in the autumn.
Their performances of Quartets No 1 in C, No 4 in D, and No 12 in D flat were outstanding.
The soul of Shostakovich (1906-1975) is to be found, in his own words, in his string quartets, several of which were not played in public until long after the end of the Stalin era.
The fear, under which so many Soviet artists lived and created, is particularly evident in his quartets, yet the music is never depressing.
It is intense, searching, and frequently very moving — as well as being exciting, brilliant, joyous, full of original colours, and utterly captivating.
All of these emotions were evident in the playing of the Carducci. From the beginning of their career, they have demonstrated technical brilliance, excellent tone, and sense of ensemble.
All of these qualities have matured wonderfully, enabling the Carducci to present these great masterpieces with a confidence that belies their comparative youth.
From the rather innocent, easy-on-the-ear music of the C major quartet, we were brought, in the D major quartet, into the dangerous world of protest against the menace of the Stalinist regime.
The atmospheric playing in No 4 was enhanced by a brilliant range of dynamics, especially in No 12, the most dissonant (but totally accessible) of these three quartets.
The Carducci’s triumphant ending of this fabulously passionate work was quite magnificent.


'Chamber Music Favourites in the Expert Hands of the Carducci Quartet and Friends'

May 17, 2014
Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor began with pianist Charles Owens’ forthright opening statement and the ensuing intense string textures, the cello striving to the top of its register. The absolute commitment evident here was characteristic of the Carducci’s approach throughout this performance; they sustained and controlled the tension, building effectively towards the huge climaxes. As the textures and timbres constantly shifted, the individual players moved to the fore and receded: in the Prelude, Eoin Schmidt-Martin’s viola melody rang out richly; Owens’ dry bass rumbles were succeeded by expansive chords punctuated by an incisive, high repetitive motif; urgent outbursts from the strings were juxtaposed with vibrato-light playing of cool transparency.
These evolving hues were ceaselessly engaging, as were the contrapuntal dialogues of the following Fugue, in which Shostakovich’s modern voice integrates wonderfully with traditional structures and forms. The transition to the undemonstrative quietude of the opening of this contrapuntal second movement was superbly controlled; similarly the imitative conversation, which is complex – at times strings are pitted ‘against’ piano, elsewhere the instrumental lines entwine with the piano’s multipartite threads. Within the inexorably unfolding lines, motivic echoes – a binding three-note idea and small scalic motions – were cleanly but unobtrusively articulated.
The breakneck fury of the Scherzo – the only movement where Shostakovich’s trademark sardonic humour is given free rein – was relentless, as tessitura and dynamic expanded with abandon. The biting string staccatos were complemented by pointed semitonal dissonances; aggressive bowing attacks were balanced by more ‘jovial’ fragments. Lyrical, humorous, sarcastic: the Carducci and Owen were equally at home.
The step-wise march of the pizzicato cello at the start of the Intermezzo was a composed support for Matthew Denton’s soaring melody. Later the movement’s closing diminuendo was beautifully judged. After this restrained passion, the Finale burst freely forth, the grand gestures never obscuring the clarity of Shostakovich’s lucid textures. After a more subdued central section reminiscent of the equability of the Intermezzo, the movement closed energetically with neoclassical stylishness and vigour.

Seen and Heard International - Shostakovich piano quintet at King's Place - London

No comments:

Post a Comment