“Cedille certainly produces some of the smartest “concept” albums in the classical music business today, because the concept always seems to work musically. Now, the Pacifica Quartet is one of the best chamber ensembles out there, as its Mendelssohn recordings for this same label attest. Even so, there’s no dearth of fine Shostakovich cycles, starting with the Borodin Quartet and running through the Emerson Quartet. These performances, every bit as fine as those, would be excellent by themselves, but they do risk getting lost in the discographic shuffle. So it was an inspired idea to pair them with other important works in the same medium by Shostakovich’s contemporaries. I’m not sure if this adds up to a “Soviet Experience,” whatever that is, but it does make for some great listening.
The four Shostakovich quartets offered here constitute the heart of the cycle, culminating in the incredibly popular (amazing because musically it’s very sad) Eighth Quartet. In this latter work, the Pacifica Quartet finds a perfect balance between technical polish and raw intensity, nowhere more so than in the ferocious second movement. In Quartet No. 5, with its complex outer movements, the players pace the music with an unerring feeling for tension and relaxation. Even the slender Seventh, Shostakovich’s shortest quartet, has an unusual measure of cogency and expressive depth.
Miaskovsky’s Thirteenth Quartet, his last, is a splendid work: conservative, to be sure, but so beautifully written. The scherzo, marked “Presto fantastico,” displays a vast quantity of color and texture, but then the entire work belies the notion that the quartet medium tends toward the monochrome. The thematic invention is also surprisingly arresting for this composer; some of the symphonies seem bland in comparison. Once again, it would be difficult to imagine a finer performance, and the engineering allows the players’ attractive sonority and well-balanced ensemble work to speak with total naturalness. A great start to a very promising series.”—David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com