The Alexandra Quartet plays beautifully and that’s perhaps why I have a couple of reservations about their well-received Shostakovich cycle, being re-released on two 3CD sets on the Foghorn Classics label. For me the overall temperature is a little too warm, lacking the icy edge that so much of this composer’s work demands. Shostakovich should never be comfortable, but this ensemble – violinists Zakarias Grafilo and Frederick Lifsitz, violist Paul Yarborough and cellist Sandy Wilson – makes him sound almost friendly on occasions.
That said there is a lot to like here. The Third Quartet, the most Beethovian of the 15, plays to their strengths and they bring a moving intensity to the autobiographical Eighth, dedicated to Dresden and the “victims of a fascist war”. The production is excellent and the Piano Quintet with Roger Woodward is a highlight of the double set. Less muscular than the recent Takács outing with Marc-André Hamelin, this has more the introspective quality of the Beaux Arts Trio’s great Philips recording.
The double set includes the world premiere recording of a ‘completed’ fragment of an unfinished quartet written in 1960, first performed by the Borodin Quartet in 2005. Grafilo’s arrangements of four of the 24 Preludes and Fugues, alongside recordings of San Francisco’s foghorns, are atmospheric stocking fillers in this attractive package.