365 Days of Album Recommendations – July 30

Dmitri Shostakovich – The String Quartets


Our international week concludes in Russia, with the music of Dimitri Shostakovich.

I was first introduced to Shostakovich via his symphonic works, and became fascinated by the story of his relationship to the ruling powers of Russia. His symphonies over time have in fact become hotly debated topics, as no one can seem to agree on the extent to which he was working to subvert, working to appease, a little of both, or none of the above.

What does seem certain is that his symphonies were definitely influenced by the pressures he was under, and they are of varying flavors accordingly.

His chamber works, on the other hand, seems universally to be considered more personal, less externally influenced, and far darker.

At the end of the day, I am in some strange fashion often more drawn to the symphonies, as something about the tensions within and around them seems just so compelling. But the string quartets are simply too beautiful to ignore, and I’m not sure one can truly begin to understand the complexities of this composer’s inner and outer lives without experiencing this music as well.

This particular collection won 2 Grammys, and justifiably so; the Emerson String Quarter (formed at Juilliard, named for Ralph Waldo Emerson, and inducted into the Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2010), delivers what NPR describes as “Subversive Neoclassicism” in live performances over a number of years at the Aspen Music Festival, all of which are collected here. These performances have been described as fiery, eloquent, and romantic, and I think that rather perfectly sums this all up!

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