Music: Notes from the Underground

Shostakovich's quartets reveal his more intimate side

When Dmitri Shostakovich died in 1975, his music was dismissed by many in the West as hopelessly oldfashioned. With his unabashed melodies and basically conservative harmonies, the Soviet composer was a misfit in an age that prized innovation above all, and he was often unfavorably compared with his more radical contemporaries Schoenberg and Stravinsky. Who would have predicted, then, that a cycle of Shostakovich's 15 string quartets by Britain's Fitzwilliam Quartet would turn out to be the instrumental highlight of the New York season?

The decline of...

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