Thursday, January 12, 2012


Silence. No dared to breathe loudly. Applause erupted after a pause. The Artaria String Quartet is celebrating their 25th Anniversary with a series of free concerts in the Twin Cities highlighting the monumental work of Dmitri Dimitriyevich Shostakovich.

I have heard some of his large sweeping operas but this is the first time for a live performance of the quartets. Not happy fun tunes but arduous works that express abject sorrow and anger. No wonder the Soviet Union and Stalin himself banned them. Music has a unique method of raising instant emotion and that can be dangerous.

It was nice that the players provided a background regarding the political stance of each quartet. The information helped to frame the internal focus of the composer. It is a visceral experience to be in the same room as musicians. The sound reverberates through your body and up from the floor into your feet. It is best to close your eyes and be swept into the music. No radio or recording can capture this knowledge of notes.

4th Quartet
First movement has a lot of contrasting tones that sound like cries. The second movement features the violin singing a story of loss as the other instruments join in. The uncomfortable volley of flat notes are grating. The third movement uses mutes to accentuate the harmonic chords and there is a pause to turn pages. It then begins to run and incorporates celebratory Klezmeresque themes with a wee bit of William Tell. Oddly, the third movement doesn’t connect to the first part of the piece except for shared lamenting flat notes. All the instruments were permitted some solo passages though the violins were favored. Technically a challenging piece due to the contrasts in the heroic key of D.

8th Quartet
Most well known of the fifteen quartets and dedicated to the composer himself. He uses a personal musical signature with the notes of D-E-C-B and his own name. It was terrific that the musicians pointed this out before the performance. Key of C Minor evokes sorrow and the slowness of the first movement is overwhelmed by a quick gallop into excitable screams. The piece moves into a somber dance pace and many members of the audience began to sway with the music. The softness turned into stomach churning harsh choppy strokes, which may emulate bombs or the knock on the door by the Secret Police. Nightmarish. Sweet tones were then twisted by harsh rasping. The final movement was muted sadness and brought tears to the eyes. WOW!

The Artaria is a group of profoundly skilled musicians. They know each other well enough to take risks with this intense music. They have a passion to share this difficult cycle of work. Thank you to The Shubert Club for sponsoring the outreach to the community. for more details.

Play on.
© 2012 Ima B. Musing

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