Moscow Conservatoire, Moscow
Like the First Violin Concerto and the song-cycle ‘From Jewish Folk Poetry’, the Fourth Quartet was written in the wake of the composer’s public condemnation and humiliation in 1948, and so kept from public performance, which might have created trouble. It was only released at the end of 1953, nine months after the death of Stalin.
After the more overtly klezmer-inspired music of the Second and Third Quartets, the Fourth, while still containing the Jewish inflections that so often surface in Shostakovich’s music of this period, is more musically self-contained. There is even a neo-classical quality of elegance to the four-movement form, as well as musical moments of almost painful radiance, although that is offset in the long run by the music’s overall character of quiet thoughtfulness and sometimes prayer-like intensity.
Shostakovich was very proud of this piece. It was the most personal of his quartets so far and we can now see that of all of them it is the one that looks forward most obviously to the intimacy of the later quartets. It is also, out of the whole cycle of fifteen, one of the most loved by performers,both for its deeply skilled handling of the medium and for its emotional concentration.
Note by Gerard McBurney