Seeing the light

Carducci Quartet Photo Tom Barnes

This August the musicians of the Carducci Quartet will take on one of the great quartet challenges when they mark 40 years since Shostakovich’s death by performing his complete quartet cycle in a single day. They share their reasons for doing so with Chloe Cutts

‘Even if you gravitate towards the light within the quartet, it still seems darker than works by other composers and will create the starkest contrast in terms of sonority. Within a mixed programme – alongside music by Haydn and Beethoven for example – it will always be the darkest and most intense piece. But listening to the complete cycle you begin to realise that within this music there is light and humour – though it may be dark humour.’

British violinist Matthew Denton is musing on the musical chiaroscuro of Shostakovich’s string quartets and the way the contrasts of mood within each is tempered or enhanced by the pieces around it. This being Shostakovich, and this music being arguably the most profoundly expressive quartet cycle of the 20th century, there is plenty of darkness and light to talk about. For Denton and the other Carducci Quartet members – second violinist Michelle Fleming, violist Eoin Schmidt-Martin and cellist Emma Denton – it is the idea that experiencing several of the quartets side by side can subtly but profoundly alter the listener’s perception of these works, even reveal new meanings, that prompted the players to schedule performances of the complete set, all 15 of them, throughout 2015 to mark the 40th anniversary of the composer’s death.

‘One tends to think of Shostakovich in terms of his dark side,’ Matthew continues, ‘but heard together you somehow automatically look for the variety of sounds and moods, which are very much there, and when you do, you find the incredible diversity in these works.’

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