String Quartet No.1 in a minor, Op.2
Shebalin's String Quartet No.1 in a minor, Op.2 is dedicated to his first composition teacher and is one of the few pieces he composed in Omsk. It is one of two quartets with only three movements. He brought it with him to Moscow where Miaskovsky was impressed enough to arrange for it to be performed publicly in 1925 by the soon to be famous Beethoven String Quartet. In the captivating opening Allegro, Russian folktunes are combined with modern but entirely tonal elements. The rhythm creates a sense of movement while the music creates a spatial impression of great expanses, perhaps indicative of his native Siberia. The slow movement, Andante tranquillo con espressione, has a tonal affinity with Debussy. Effects such as the multiple use of trills, among others, also bring the French impressionists to mind. The finale, Vivo, opens in a neo-classical vein but again shows the influence of impressionism. Shebalin later wrote, "[I]n this quartet, enthusiasm for the French—which was so common at that time—comes to light.” This is a good work which should be of interest to both professionals and amateurs.---The Chamber Music Journal.
Writing of his visit to Shostakovich, the Polish composer Krzystztof Meyer said that in Shostakovich’s study he found pictures of only three composers: Mahler, Mussorgsky and Shebalin. Not only Shostakovich but most of Shebalin’s contemporaries regarded him as being in the front rank of composers from their generation. Vissarion Shebalin (1902-63) was born in Omsk, Siberia where he began his musical studies. Later at the Moscow Conservatory, he studied under Myaskovsky. During the 1920’s he was attracted by modernism, but during the 1930’s he was drawn to traditionalism with its attachment to folkloric melodies. By 1942, he was appointed director of the Moscow Conservatory. When Stalin came to power, Shebalin was forced, as were all of the other major Soviet composers, to find some sort of modus vivendi with Socialist Realism. Although his music is well-known within Russia, it is virtually never heard outside of it. Chamber music always interested Shebalin and constitutes a sizeable part of his output. His nine string quartets span the length of his entire career from student right up until his death. They are an important body of work which deserves to be better known and to be performed.
This quartet by one of Russia's lesser known but quite important 20th century composers deserves to be heard in concert but is not beyond amateurs. Warmly recommended.