Shostakovich - String Quartet No.3 in F Major, Op. 73 (1946)
The period between late January 1946, and early November 1952, during which Shostakovich completed his Quartets Nos. 3, 4, and 5, was one of the most terrible in Soviet history. Millions were sent to Siberian labor camps. Millions more saw their lives, families, and careers destroyed. Many of Shostakovich's close friends and colleagues were among the victims. Of the three quartets Shostakovich composed between the end of World War II and Stalin's death in 1953, the Third has achieved the greatest popularity.
The first of his quartets with five rather than four movements, it opens with a typically ironic, satirically cheerful tune (marked dolce). But Shostakovich soon whips this insipid, seemingly harmless melody into a vicious frenzy. By the movement s close it has been transformed into a debauched dance macabre. The Moderato and Allegro non trop¬po follow a similar course, building from seemingly innocent beginnings to intense, vociferous, angry climaxes.
The fourth movement Adagio forms the quartet's thematic and emotional center. It is built around an imposing funeral march that looks forward to the fifth movement of Shostakovich's last quartet, the Fifteenth. This brooding processional makes a brief reappearance towards the end of the con¬cluding Moderato, whose gently rocking 6/8 meter and plaintive, wandering theme lead into a quiet realm of otherworldly grief and resignation. Straightforward but highly personal in structure, nearly claustrophobic in its intensity, the Third Quartet packs a pow¬erful emotional punch, veering between crude humor and deepest mourning.
Alfred Schnittke - Piano Quintet (1976)
Alfred Schnittke’s Piano Quintet, dedicated to the memory of the composer’s mother, is amongst the most “Russian” of his works, though this quality has some more to do with the influence of Shostakovich’s own melancholy Piano Quintet of 1940 (itself a landmark of Soviet chamber music) rather than any use of liturgical or ethnic material. It consists of five movements, connected intonationally and by mood, which follow one another without pause. The sorrowful first movement is opened by an introductory monologue on the piano melancholic second movement develops a waltz which is compared to choral and recitative texture; the dramatic third movement closes with the dying pulsations of the piano; the fourth movement is a mournful chorale. At last, Schnittke finds a path out of the circle of mourning in the movement, a pastorale where echoes of the previous movements play in front of the backdrop the never-ending repetition of the piano theme.
The string quartet is treated as a single choir, contrasted to the solo piano. Solo strings can be heard now and then - a cello solo in the third movement and first violin in the fourth. To sharpen the prevailing chromaticisms, the composer has used micro intervals in the form of quarter motives in all movements. The timbre variations of a uniformly slow rhythm lead to the unusual piano techniques which include nearly soundless playing with prevailing knocks of the keys (at the end of the first movement) and hollow strokes of the pedal board.
Gary Graffman, piano
Gary Graffman began his piano studies at the age of three, and at age seven was accepted by Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music to study with Isabelle Vengerova. After graduation from Curtis, he studied intensely for several years with Vladimir Horowitz and, in the summers, at the Marlboro Music Festival with Rudolf Serkin. At the age of eighteen, Mr. Graffman made his debut with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. In 1979, however, his performing career was interrupted by an injury affecting the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand. Though this signaled the end of his “normal” piano career, it has provided him with many opportunities to expand his horizons far beyond the concert stage, most importantly as Director of the Curtis Institute. Mr. Graffman’s performing and academic careers converged in 1993 with he joined the Symphony of the Curtis Institute under the baton of Andrew Previn for the world premiere of Ned Rorem’s Piano Concerto No. 4 (for left hand), dedicated to him by the composer.
Moscow String Quartet
The members of the Moscow String Quartet have earned a place among the most distinguished artists of today. All honors graduates of the Moscow Conservatory, the quartet has concertized extensively since 1975.
The Moscow String Quartet gained international acclaim after their victory in 1978 at the Leo Weiner International Quartet Competition in Budapest. The next year, the quartet triumphed at the International Quartet Competition in Evian, France. There, they received rare recognition in the form of two Grand Prizes for their performances of classical and contemporary music.
Having made its American debut at the Grand Teton Summer Music Festival and Flagstaff Festival of Arts, the Moscow String Quartet has participated in numerous summer festivals in the United States and in Europe. The Quartet has recorded the Tchaikovsky Quartets in a series of albums for MCA, and album of two Beethoven String Quartets on Finer Arts Classical and a quintet with by Glinka, as well as chamber music by Denisov.
This Moscow String Quartet is currently in residence at the University of Colorado at Denver.