Author Topic: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8  (Read 734 times)

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Offline aukhawk

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Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« on: April 19, 2017, 10:58:53 PM »
Another week, another mini-blind comparison.
Here are eight 8ths - that is, Shostakovich's String Quartet No.8 in C minor, Op.110
Play this first small file to get a taster of all eight in rapid succession - it's less than a minute long.
0.              Sampler file

The following samples are just over 4 minutes long on average, so playing all eight samples here would occupy about 35 minutes, that's all. They consist of the 2nd half of the 3rd movement (Allegretto) followed without a break by the opening of the 4th movement (Largo).  Although it's not really the heart of the work, I've used this passage because it offers a lot of variety - dynamics, tempi, rhythms - in a short space of time. 
Coincidentally like the Sibelius a few weeks ago, this work is played without a break and, again coincidentally, typically lasts about 22 minutes in total.

Composed very rapidly (3 days!) in 1960, in terms of major works this falls between the 1st Cello Concerto (in my opinion among his very best output) and the 12th Symphony (ugh!).  Notoriously in this quartet, Shostakovich takes his DSCH motif to obsession level and beyond.  Clearly for Dmitri, this music is personal.  DSCH dominates the 1st, 2nd and 5th movements and figures in this 3rd movement as well - you can hear it repeated 14 times in about 45 seconds in the above short sampler file alone.  In the main samples it is heard 'thrown away' at the very start and then stated more explicitly after 5 seconds - however after 20 seconds another (somewhat similar) 4-note motif is introduced - this is the cello concerto theme which acts as a kind of sardonic response to DSCH, and it is this latter motif that features more strongly in the extract presented here.
Eventually (junction of 3rd and 4th movements) the 1st violin is asked to sound a single sustained tone pp lasting 15 bars, while the other three instruments hammer away ff.  It's a riveting passage when played and recorded well, but a complete fail if not.

I go off-grid for a while from May 11th so this will have to be done and dusted including the reveal, before then.
These live links will be removed at that time.  Meanwhile, please enjoy:

(Live links removed.)
« Last Edit: May 06, 2017, 11:29:22 PM by aukhawk »

Offline Syek88

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #1 on: April 20, 2017, 03:29:30 PM »
Take my opinions with a grain of salt. I'm an expert in neither Shostakovich nor string music. And I don't have the score.

My ranking was:

1. No. 7
2. No. 1
3-6. Nos. 3-6
7. No. 8
8. No. 2

I found No. 7 to have a gripping rawness about it all the way through the excerpt. Based on the excerpt I would spend money on this recording. In No. 1 I found the 3rd-4th movement transition to be excellent.  No. 2 sounded exceptionally lightweight; I put it bottom of the pile. I really don't have enough objective markers available to me to split Nos. 3-6, which all seemed to be capable performances with their own pros and cons.

Offline snyprrr

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #2 on: April 20, 2017, 06:15:25 PM »
i just can't do this- just tell me what they are and I'll consult the all knowing DSCH Chart.

The first sample had the right idea- with all in 5sec bites- but it should have all been on that screeech note, that high one, that's one of the crucial notes that will make or break- it has to sound like a torture victim scream, many don't
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Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2017, 12:06:03 AM »
Hah!  :laugh:  That would sound like the shower scene from Psycho  ???  (which must have been composed earlier, though only by a matter of weeks or a very few months).

But yes, the way these blind comparisons are going the logical conclusion is a string of 1-note samples ...  :(

Thanks Syek88 for your response and comments, delivered so soon.

Online Jeffrey Smith

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2017, 06:45:25 PM »
First tier: 3 and 6
Second tier: the rest.

Number 6 sounded rather familiar. If I am right, it is the performance found on this recording.
ASIN B000027JEP

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2017, 02:00:44 AM »
Not No.6 - but they are in there somewhere of course.  Thanks for listening Jeffrey.
« Last Edit: April 22, 2017, 02:05:46 AM by aukhawk »

Offline snyprrr

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #6 on: April 22, 2017, 04:25:08 PM »
Hah!  :laugh:  That would sound like the shower scene from Psycho  ???  (which must have been composed earlier, though only by a matter of weeks or a very few months).

But yes, the way these blind comparisons are going the logical conclusion is a string of 1-note samples ...  :(

Thanks Syek88 for your response and comments, delivered so soon.

The three "knocks" is another dead giveaway on whether your performance is up to snuff. Now I feel like going to the DSCH SQ Thread and looking at my first reactions to all those No.8s... I remember the Medici/Nimbus being the CellarDweller there... though, I found quite a few more lacking 8ths. I think I was actually blown away by... the Aviv?... live... and was it a live Jerusalem performance (not the HarmoniaMUndi)...

Generally, I didn't even care for the piece until I heard the PERFORMANCE... this music can be so obvious, you really have to turn it into a drama, you can't just play it...
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Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #7 on: April 23, 2017, 01:05:47 AM »
Yes - didn't you or someone else on that thread liken the DSCH motif to Dmitri crying "Me Me ME MEEE" - something I considered including in my introductory post but didn't because, the image is so difficult to erase from mind once it's been planted there.  >:D

Still, the 8th is the only one of the quartets that I would consider as 'essential Shostakovich' (I would also put the Piano Quintet, the 2nd Piano Trio and the Cello Sonata in that category).  But then, perhaps I prefer the obvious.

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #8 on: April 23, 2017, 02:45:36 AM »
Impressions:
1. Good precision marred by occasional lapses. Intonation not quite as pure as I would like, but not bad. Lead violin sound not to my taste.
2. Faster. Opening is more connected. The line is given prominence here, and I think it really works better. More precision and better general tonal resonance. Somehow seems less episodic, which I really like, meaning better (or perhaps better prepared) transitions.
3. Greater use of legato, and I like it. Also good lines here, but transitions not quite as well done as #2. I thought the occasional solo part exposed. It felt less comfortable than when they all play.
4. Faster. Irritating sound and out of synch in tonal balance and intonation at times. More episodic. 
5. Don't like the sound. This one seems to be emphasizing the edges more. It's not really badly played, I just don't like what they do with it as much. Yet oddly, they don't pull as much out of the 'hammering' part.
6. Tonally, on the edge (ultimately an issue for me). Too much reverb spoils the impact at specific moments. Reverb makes 'hammering' sound like waves as notes end. Ultimately, doesn't sustain interest as well. 
7. irritating sound and tonally irritating. Like nails on a chalkboard throughout. Transitions could have been better. 'Hammering' prepared nicely. Ends better than it starts.
8. Lead instruments irritates the heck out of me at times. Another that feels too episodic. Not enough dynamic differentiation at times. Note held badly.

Overall, 2 & 3 are neck and neck for me. Both feel like they have a clear idea of where they want to go, and the playing emphasizes this. There is a certain softness to #2, but I do love the use of legato in #3 (especially early on - helps suck you down the black hole :) ). I could see flipping 2 and 3 in order on any given day though.

Ranking:
2, 3 ......gap...... 4, 6, 1, 7, 5, 8

Offenbach gets a raw deal in recordings considering his talent! For a discussion of this outstanding composer too little recorded: http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,5572.

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #9 on: April 24, 2017, 01:07:00 AM »
Thankyou sir.
So far we have a clear leader and two clear rejects.  I do have a very definite opinion about which recording is my own favourite, and they're running an unconvincing 3rd ...

Offline NorthNYMark

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #10 on: April 28, 2017, 02:53:37 PM »
So far, there's only one of the samples that stands out in a negative way, and that is #2--it sounds like they are rushing through it as quickly as possible, with no feeling whatsoever.
 #3 is the total opposite, with possibly the most idiosyncratic sense of rhythm. It started off feeling a bit too over-the-top in terms of tempo changes, but I really ended up enjoying it a great deal.
#1 and #4 are kind of similar to me, though #1 suffers from somewhat murkier sound. #4 starts off kind of mechanically (like #2), but quickly recovers. Neither does the "three knocks" section especially to my liking (#1 sounds a bit labored, and #4 a bit too sprightly).
#5 had some very impressive moments (especially toward the beginning and end of the clip), but also quite a few sections where they seemed to lose the tension and drag a bit. Generally in the same ballpark as #1 and #4 for me.
#6. This one seemed slightly more consistently pleasing than 1,4, and 5. It's on the slower/moodier side, but very well done overall. My second favorite so far after #3.
#7. This had a somewhat edgy sonic character that was refreshing at first, but became a bit wearying as the track went on. Perhaps appropriately, the interpretation seemed to be somewhat on the staccato side, of which I'm not normally especially fond, but it felt very coherent, and still had a good deal of feeling. I'd probably place it along with the very different #6 in terms of ranking just below #3.
#8. Wow--this one had some of the expressive qualities I enjoyed so much in #3. Not quite as much rubato, if I'm using the term correctly, but they played each section with a distinctly different character. Some might call it episodic, but to me it felt more expressive and colorful. Definitely my second favorite of the performances.

Final ranking:
3
8 (These two are the ones I'd be most interested in exploring further)
 
6
7 (These two were almost opposites in terms of overall mood, but worked consistently well within those parameters)

1
4.
5. (These three are basically tied--they each had some great sections, and others that didn't work as well for me)

2 (This one did nothing for me--it felt rushed and mechanical).
« Last Edit: April 28, 2017, 02:59:52 PM by NorthNYMark »

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #11 on: April 30, 2017, 09:18:10 AM »
Thanks for listening and giving us your rankings and comments.  No.2 seems quite divisive - has been ranked both 1st and last - and most of the others are an up-and-down mix - but No3 seems to be doing consistently well.  I'll have to listen to it again!

I'll close this mini-blind out next Thursday 4th May.

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #12 on: May 04, 2017, 08:53:53 AM »
The Results (such as they are)

Three of the eight recordings scored just 34%.  Of these I'll put No.2 into 8th place since it was placed plumb last twice.  (Though to be fair, also joint 1st once.)

So - 8th, 34%, dividing opinion, was No.2 ...
"The line is given prominence here, and I think it really works better. More precision and better general tonal resonance."
BUT
"it sounds like they are rushing through it as quickly as possible, with no feeling whatsoever."
"exceptionally lightweight"
No.2 is
...
The Brodsky Quartet


7th, also 34%, not really highly rated by anyone, No.5 ...
"had some very impressive moments ... but also quite a few sections where they seemed to lose the tension and drag a bit."
BUT
"Don't like the sound. This one seems to be emphasizing the edges more."
That rings true - No.5 is one of several recordings by
...
The Borodin Quartet (recorded 1978, originally on Melodiya)


6th, also 34%, rated 2nd once, but also plumb last once, No.8 ...
"Some might call it episodic, but to me it felt more expressive and colorful."
BUT
"Lead instruments irritates the heck out of me at times. Another that feels too episodic."
No.8 is
...
The Pacifica Quartet
Takes the prize for best cover art though.


(Cover art for string quartets is generally unremittingly dreary  ::), four musicians posing awkwardly with their instruments often in highly inappropriate surroundings.  >:( )


Very close between Nos 4 and 1 ...
5th, with 47% and very even middle-of-the-bunch ratings, was No.4
"starts off kind of mechanically."
"Faster. Irritating sound and out of synch in tonal balance and intonation at times."
No.4 is
...
The Talich Quartet


4th (just), with 50% and ranked 2nd once, was No.1
"I found the 3rd-4th movement transition to be excellent. "
BUT
"suffers from somewhat murkier sound."
No.1 is
...
The Hagen Quartet

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #13 on: May 04, 2017, 09:10:13 AM »
3rd, with 56% and ranked 1st once but otherwise not much appreciated, was No.7
My personal favourite recording of this music, but not even close to 2nd or 1st here.
"a gripping rawness about it all the way through the excerpt."
BUT
"Like nails on a chalkboard throughout."

This is a somewhat overblown recording - close-miked and yet reverberant, you are right there on a 5th chair, in amongst them.  Big dynamics and very dramatic when played loud.
No.7 is
...
The Sorrel Quartet  2001


The cover art.  Sigh.    ::)


2nd with 66% and ranked joint 1st once and otherwise middling, was No.6
"It's on the slower/moodier side, but very well done overall."
BUT
"Tonally, on the edge (ultimately an issue for me)."

On the edge, I should say so, I find it almost unlistenable - No.6 is
...
The Yggdrasil Quartet  1998


The cover art.  Drear.   >:(


1st with 84% and ranked 1st or joint 1st three times, was No.3
"Greater use of legato, and I like it."
"It started off feeling a bit too over-the-top in terms of tempo changes, but I really ended up enjoying it a great deal."

I've just had another listen to this, and yes I have to agree, it is very good - though near the 'beautiful' end of the beautiful-brutal spectrum.
No.3 is
...
The Jerusalem Quartet  2005-ish


The cover art!   >:(  No. Just ... no!   >:(

Online Jeffrey Smith

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #14 on: May 04, 2017, 09:25:36 AM »
Thanks for your work.
The one I thought I recognized is not even on the list (BorodinQt on EMI, the one I just posted in the Desert Island thread), and the one I thought it to be is one I do not have at all. But at least one of the two I liked best is one of my favorites...the favorite, so to speak, Jerusalem Qt).

Offline NorthNYMark

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #15 on: May 04, 2017, 09:45:31 AM »
Thanks so much for this! It was a lot of fun. While we can only extrapolate so much from these short fragments, I think you did a great job of choosing a section that demonstrated multiple facets of the interpretations in a relatively compact time frame. I own several sets, but of them, only the Borodin was part of this group (and it has generally been my least favorite of those I own). I do recall being impressed by some sampling I'd done of both the Pacifica and Jerusalem Quartet cycles, so I'm not too shocked to have chosen them as my favorites from this group.  Again, thanks for doing this!

Online Jeffrey Smith

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #16 on: May 04, 2017, 11:06:54 AM »
BTW, the Borodin cover art is certainly different!

It seems to be unobtainium status again, which is a shame, because it's my overall favorite.

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #17 on: May 04, 2017, 11:22:30 AM »
Thanks a lot! Very interesting result. Can I assume the Brodsky is the earlier studio recording on Teldec/Erato/Warner and not the recent live recording on Chandos? Any idea how they compare?
Offenbach gets a raw deal in recordings considering his talent! For a discussion of this outstanding composer too little recorded: http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,5572.

Offline Syek88

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #18 on: May 04, 2017, 12:14:04 PM »
Thank you very much for organising this. I might just buy No. 7.

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Shostakovich Quartet No.8
« Reply #19 on: May 05, 2017, 08:57:11 AM »
I do think the Sorrels is special.  You may find a good price for the set.  The Piano Quintet from the same cycle is also one of the best IMHO.  (It was a toss-up for me whether to do SQ8 or the Quintet for a mini-blind, I could have done either.)

Yes the Brodsky recording is the one originally on Teldec.

Thanks for your work.
The one I thought I recognized is not even on the list (BorodinQt on EMI, the one I just posted in the Desert Island thread), ...

Are you sure that's not the same as No.5?  That is an EMI CD in my collection, but it is also marked Melodiya and the notes give the date as 1978 (though the EMI (re)release was 1985 I think, coupled with the Quintet, Richter on piano, what a waste, it's not exactly a virtuoso part). 
Calling snyprrr !!! for his in-depth knowledge of the Borodins recordings.  ;)
« Last Edit: May 05, 2017, 09:08:27 AM by aukhawk »

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