Classical review: Edinburgh Quartet, St George’s West

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Running at just over an hour, this short but perfectly conceived and executed Rush Hour Concert provided new insights into Shostakovich through his most autobiographical string quartet, number 8 in c minor Op 110.

Edinburgh Quartet

St George’s West

Star rating: * * * *

Written in three days in 1960 while Shostakovich was visiting the bomb-damaged Dresden, he knits his initials, DSCH, and other cryptic messages into the musical fabric of the work.

The powerful immediacy of this thematic material was beautifully articulated by the Edinburgh Quartet. It begins with the funereal lament of the the initial largo, moves through a frenzied allegro and a macabre and unsettling waltz inspired by Jewish folk song, before the gut-wrenching final movements. Here, Shostakovich quotes from several of his own works, as well as the Lenin’s favourite song, Tormented by Grievous Bondage.

Overall, this was a dynamic performance with nice sparky interactions between leader Tristan Gurney and violinist Gordon Bragg. As a duo, they played Schnittke’s exquisite Preludium in Memoriam D. Shostakovich, which intertwines the DSCH theme with the music monogram of BACH, whom Shostakovich revered. Gurney begins the piece with double stopping, rhythmically marked with a plucked pulse, before being joined by Bragg, hidden on a balcony, whose phrases shadow Gurney’s lines in a ghost-like fashion.

In between: a lyrical account of Felix Blumenfield’s Sarabande from Les Vendredis string quartet and scene-setting readings from Shostakovich’s memoirs by Christopher Hartley and Roger Williams.