PH-50-NC | Southeast USA | 02/18/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Brodsky Quartet recorded this set shortly after performing the complete cycle in a series of London concerts around 1989, and their familiarity with (and passion for) the music show.
Of the complete quartets CD sets I'm familiar with (2nd Borodin set, Fitzwilliam, Emerson, and this set), the Brodsky performances are probably closest in interpretation to the Fitzwilliam. That is to say, they don't shy away from the drama of the music or speed through it, and they are technically accomplished, turning in tight and nimble performances.
The Brodsky Quartet is the most rhythmically exciting of the ensembles I've heard play this music. The staccatos here are the liveliest, and where Shostakovich uses rhythms borrowed from popular music styles, the Brodsky's handle these rhythms with panache. Their other great strengths are 1.) their handling of the operatic moments (such as the second movement of the second quartet, "Recitative And Romance: Adagio"), and 2.) their overall sense of dynamics. Shostakovich is nothing if not varied in this music, which can go from lullaby-sweet melodies to intense polyphonic and polyrhymic angst-ridden climaxes in a matter of a few measures. This last point is a matter of taste, of course. Listeners who prefer the Emerson set seem to value the more consistent approach taken by that ensemble. The 8th quartet, one of the peaks of this cycle, is very strong here, as it's dark drama showcases the Broksky's strengths.
Sonically, the balances are as good as the Fitzwilliam set, though the Fitzwilliam Quartet's tone is unmatched in richness from top to bottom (at times sounding like a minature symphony orchestra). The Brodsky Quartet has a slightly thinner sound than the Fitzwilliam, a sound very comparable to that of the Borodin in their second recording of this music. But this is not to say that the sound here gets in the way of the enjoyment, and in truth it's as good or better than the rest of the competition.
If I could have only one set, I'd probably choose this set, though I'd miss the Fitzwilliam performances, some of which surpass individual quartets here. This music is so wide-ranging that the situation is a little like the role of Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata--no one artist can do everything perfectly and turn in a truly definitive performance. The Emerson Quartet, for example, can do the neo-classical moments in the music like no one else, and a couple of their individual quartet performances have won me over (though their set overall is my least favorite).
Nice that WEA finally issued this as a mid-price set so that more people might sample it."