November 25, 2008

I'll state my case, of which I'm certain

Reviewing the Borromeo Quartet.
Boston Globe, Novermber 27, 2008.

No, I'm not sure why it's dated the 27th. But it's up on the Web, so here it is.


Henry Holland said...

Years ago, Esa-Pekka Salonen started a Shostakovich cycle with the LAP: 3 symphonies a year, with the corresponding numerical string quartet being played in the grand tier hall at the old Dot beforehand. E-PS bailed after a year, making the damning remark "Well, I'd not really known the music before, it's....interesting" (translation: it sucks).

So, after a performance of the 10th string quartet, my friend Jim gushed "Shostakovich wrote the greatest quartets EVER!". My friend Patrick and I looked at him like he had 3 heads. "Better than Beethoven's?" said Patrick. [Jim nodded Yes]. "Better than Bartok's?" I asked, incredulous. Jim said firmly "Oh, absolutely".

We never took his opinion as seriously after that.

So, where do you think Shostakovich's quartets fit in the canon?

Henry Holland said...

Um, after reading that again, it sounds like a challenge to a duel: [slap slap] Beethoven or Shostakovich? Which is it? [slap slap]

Didn't mean it that way, of course, I value your opinion highly and am just curious about where you'd place the dour Russian's quartets.

Matthew said...

I think as far as the quartets are concerned, Shostakovich-Beethoven is apples-oranges—when he's misbehaving, Shostakovich is getting in-your-face with the tradition of the string quartet in a way Beethoven never could, and when he's not, it's hard to compare him to anybody. I mean, the 13th and 15th quartets—they don't behave like any other music for the group that I know.

But I think the other thing that's hard is that Shostakovich is a lot less foolproof than Beethoven. A mediocre Beethoven performance is still pretty enervating, whereas a mediocre Shostakovich performance is a long night indeed. But a terrific performance levels the playing field quite a bit, at least for me. I think the same way about Bach and Handel; a really good performance of Handel, and I'm almost ready to rate the glorious extravagance over Bach's precision watchmaking. But it has to be a really good performance.