Marian Poole, Piano Teacher and Music Critic.

NZ String Quartet playing Shostakovich at the Glenroy Auditorium

New Zealand String Quartet's interpretation of Shostakovich's Quartet in E-Flat Major, No 9 Op117, received enthusiastic applause from the audience at the Glenroy Auditorium this Tuesday evening. The first ninth quartet was apparently quite different and was burnt by the composer. The second and successful attempt is a large and complex work dedicated to the composer's fourth wife, Irina. Its movements fade into each other making the whole work slightly symphonic in proportion. The players signaled the change in mood, held notes and fading segues which indicated a new movement extremely well. Gestures of rustic idyll, which were taken from of Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov", accompany anguished prayer but are obliterated by blunt, coarse chords, shriek grotesque sounds and broken rhythms where each instrument is given its chance to either lyrical or brusque. Shostakovich never leaves his listener in doubt that not all was well in Russia. This was an impressively tightly executed performance.

Shostakovich's older quartet in B flat Major, Op92 written in 1952, is also symphonic but not as strident. Though comparatively unassuming, it contains great intensity and pent up frustrations that are Shostakovich's signature. Folk tunes haunt a scarred landscape. Lyricism and beauty are fragmented. In both Shostakovich quartets the instruments carry, share and develop the melodies seamlessly. This was a concentrated, energetic, elegant and eloquent performance.

Programming Schumann's String quartet in A major, op41 No3, as a juxtaposition to Shostakovich probably did not do Schumann any favours, despite it being the anniversary of his birth. Though beautifully played and well received, Schumann's inner tensions are muted, balanced and by comparison with Shostakovich, intellectualized and repetitive. The New Zealand String Quartet were wise to play it first - there's not many works which could follow Shostakovich's explosive E-Flat Major quartet.