The Strad issue
Beguilingly lyrical accounts of three of Shostakovich’s more neo-Classical works
Now over a quarter of a century old with only two changes of personnel from the original 1985 line-up, the Ludwig Quartet is justly famous for its richly opulent sound world and cantabile espressivo intensity redolent of a bygone age. The predominant tendency in Shostakovich’s string quartets may be to treat them as blisteringly ironic musical statements, fuelled by political angst and a Mahlerian obsession with death. The Ludwig Quartet, however, unshackles these glorious scores from any insidious subtext, revelling in their lyrical potential just as surely as if the music were by Borodin or Tchaikovsky.
Fascinatingly, the Ludwig has chosen to programme three of Shostakovich’s most neo-Classically inclined quartets, which on paper might appear diametrically opposed to the ensemble’s beguiling warmth and exultant phrasing. The results, however, confound expectation as these gifted players exchange the chilly morbidity of interpretative convention for a moving generosity of spirit, out of which the composer’s restless probing emerges with touching poignancy. When listening to the Ludwig Quartet in the exploratory First Quartet or the Eighth Quartet’s autobiographical angst, one is struck less by the music’s sardonicism than an overwhelming sense of sadness. The recording is as lucid and beguiling as the playing itself.