Following their debut release DRESS CODE on Navona Records, Altius Quartet returns with a drastically different set of repertoire on SHOSTAKOVICH STRING QUARTETS 7, 8 & 9 but is played with the same passion and meticulous dedication one could expect from the group.
The quartet notes that through studying these works the group was able to find their artistic voices both as individuals as well as an ensemble. Through listening to their performances, one can really get a sense of their personal connection to these pieces, and that reverence only helps to highlight the personal connection Shostakovich felt to these quartets as well. In fact, these three quartets are each written in honor of different person or group he felt a close connection to.
Shostakovich’s Seventh Quartet was written in memory of his first wife, she had died suddenly from complications during an emergency surgery. He even goes so far as to write “To live for you! To die for you!” in his score; that anguish is abundantly clear through the complex and chromatic harmonies he brings forth. Altius’ blazing technical facilities in the allegretto is nothing short of awesome, and their careful balancing of Shostakovich’s dense harmonies makes even the strongest of dissonances ring sonorously.
Written after reluctantly joining the Communist Party and in the midst of his first instance of debilitating muscle fatigue, Shostakovich dedicated the Eighth Quartet “to the victims of fascism and the war.” Whether this is a reference to the atrocities he experienced during World War II or an expression of his closeted dissent of his country’s regime, the brooding largo and visceral allegretto demonstrate that this quartet could be dedicated to victims anywhere. In this work, the group’s cohesion comes to the forefront; the way in which the group can achieve dynamic unity in every swell and change allows the atmospheres that Shostakovich intended to come vividly to life.
Finally, the Ninth Quartet was written in dedication to his third wife and it’s clear this work is written with a much more hopeful tone than his other pieces. For instance, this quartet doesn’t end with a morendo like so many of his other works; in fact, the quartet ends with a luminous forte. Even within the first few measures, it’s clear the ensemble has taken the time to live within the work. Although contingent upon rhythmic accuracy, the group still allows each phrase to breathe, ebb, and flow; all within perfect unison of one another. In the following brisker movements, the group is still able to convey the passion and fervor this work emits, whether it be the softest sul tasto or strongest fortissimo.