The Quatuor Danel with Shostakovich’s string quartets | EUROtoday

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Man kann die fünfzehn Streichquartette Dmitri Schostakowitschs unterschiedlich „lesen“: als intime Tagebuchaufzeichnungen aus der zweiten Lebenshälfte des Künstlers, als Experimentierfeld im Ausloten radikaler Klanggestalten – und nicht zuletzt als Zeugnisse einer tiefen künstlerischen Vertrautheit, die für diesen scheuen, dünnhäutigen Menschen enorm wichtig war. Partner dafür war das Beethoven-Quartett, dessen Stammmitglieder, die volle 41 Jahre miteinander spielten, Kinder des Jahrhundertanfangs waren wie der 1906 geborene Komponist selbst. In achtungsvoller Freundschaft hatten sie mit ihm, unabhängig von der gerade herrschenden politisch-ästhetischen Windrichtung, alle Härtejahre durchgestanden, dabei dreizehn seiner Quartette und mit ihm selbst am Klavier sein monumentales Quintett uraufgeführt – wofür er sich, noch unter Stalins Herrschaft, mit der Widmung des 3. und 5. Quartetts an das Ensemble bedankt hatte.

In seinem letzten Lebensjahrzehnt jedoch griffen noch andere als die politischen Mächte ein. 1965 starb Wassili Schirinski, der zweite Geiger der Formation. Schostakowitsch widmete seinem Andenken das elfte seiner Quartette und die folgenden drei den weiteren Mitgliedern seiner Lieblingsbesetzung. Diese konnten also noch die Uraufführungen „ihrer“ Quartette mitgestalten, doch sowohl der Bratscher als auch der Cellist des Ensembles überlebten die Premieren nur um ein reichliches Jahr. Es war, als habe ihnen der Komponistenfreund Nachrufe zu Lebzeiten gewidmet – worauf er dann sein fünfzehntes und letztes Werk der Gattung in ähnlicher Funktion womöglich für sich selbst schrieb: endlich den zermürbenden Repressalien früherer Jahrzehnte entronnen, doch körperlich nur mehr ein Wrack (er erreichte am Ende keine siebzig Lebensjahre) und gefangen in einer tief widersinnigen Dialektik von endlich unbestrittener Anerkennung und innerer Vereinsamung.

When the Quatuor Danel interprets these six consecutive Adagio movements, which have been merged into a single 35-minute block – a unique work in music history – we hear above all that Shostakovich was a sensitive but not a whiny person. What is formed here with sounds that initially seem to come from a great distance is initially an image of an icy expanse in which one could easily get lost if sounds of warming consolation did not gradually mix in. These never become dominant, even in the following movements, but they always remain memorable as signs of hope, whose shadows still cast over the scene when the bodies have already disappeared. Not only joys and friendships, but also sufferings are already behind us – what remains is a calm, balanced reflection that only rarely breaks out in excitement, arising from a similarly elegiac half-distance as the artist's last symphony and, like this one, touching in its illusion-free presentation of the inevitable and inescapably past – only that in the symphony there are more smiles, and here there is even more mourning.

The Danels, founded in 1991, performed Shostakovich's quartets in their entirety for the first time just one year later, have since presented the cycle over thirty times around the world and have already recorded it on CD at the beginning of the millennium. The current attempt, based on live concerts in the small hall of the Leipzig Gewandhaus, demonstrates the intensity but also the naturalness of this decades-long familiarity, which nevertheless leaves room for something new – if only due to the fact that the viola and cello positions have been re-occupied compared to the first recording.

Dmitri Shostakovich: Complete String Quartets. Quatuor Danel. accentus
Dmitri Shostakovich: Complete String Quartets. Quatuor Danel. accentusStress

What we experience is a perfectly formed and controlled refinement, always impressive in the delicate pianissimi balancing on the edge of silence and a glassy, ​​mother-of-pearl, delicately brittle, almost touch-sensitive transparency of the sound mixtures; a refinement that never has anything to do with pampering or affectation, but grows above all from the intensity of its intermediate and semitones, such as – to name just two examples from different creative periods – in the silvery twilight and the capriciously fragile elegance of the first quartet or in the friendly, serene nobility and intimate tenderness of the fourteenth quartet.

Even in the most violent, dissonantly screaming and tumultuous climaxes, the Danel Quartet resorts to the foil rather than the nail club, depicts scenes of inner experience rather than external violence, presents dialogues rather than dramas. This spiritualization never leads to the sometimes distant, as in the Emerson Quartet's Shostakovich recordings, which were very popular at times after the turn of the millennium, but can sometimes radiate a touch of subtle intellectual coolness.

This is certainly quite a distance from the technically hardly brilliant, but enormously motoric, rushed and screaming, almost athletic performances of the Beethoven Quartet (which makes, for example, the premiere recording of the eighth quartet, far removed from all aesthetic criteria, a shocking contemporary testimony); even the first recording of the Borodin formation (which is younger and internationally much better known than the “Beethovens”), which remains to be completely usable as a reference, is in most actions extra bodily, full-voiced, and fleshier, because it have been, than the one offered right here.

But in a bit like the primary motion of the fifth quartet, which within the Borodin Quartet comes throughout as extra malicious, sarcastic and comical, the Danel interpretation presents the soul portrait of an individual and a society that’s nearly continually suffering from tensions and suppressed aggressions which are generally harmlessly masked however all of the extra insidiously tormenting: a music of teeth-gnashing struggles and gasping gasps for air, as if it had been scalded by a jet of scorching steam, underneath which it lastly dissolves fully. Minutes like these, of their crumpled, curled-up vulnerability, show how worthwhile it’s to maintain approaching the tragic cosmos of Shostakovich's chamber music anew.

Dmitri Shostakovich: The String Quartets. Quatuor Danel. accentus music ACC 80585