String Quartet No.4 in g minor, Op.29
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.
String Quartet No.4 in g dates from 1940 and is dedicated to the memory of Sergei Taneiev. It begins with an Allegro which is more leisurely than fast. A languid, reflective Andante comes next and is followed by a very effective Vivo, alla marcia, the main section is played entirely pizzicato. A contrasting and mysterious trio compliments this excellent movement. The Andante—Allegro which concludes the quartet begins with a somber introduction to the quicker main section. The first theme is a quote from Taneyev. (The String Trio in D) However, the music does not sound like that composer. It is, an eclectic mix of the major elements from the late 19th century through the mid 20th. Throughout this impressive movement, one can hear themes of both Borodin and Gliere, though filtered through the prism of Russian modernism.
Here is a work which should interest professionals but is not beyond amateurs. Certainly it deserves to be heard in concert.