Although Shostakovich wrote fifteen symphonies and fifteen string quartets, his more public symphonies span virtually his entire career, from young music student to the end of his life. By contrast, his works in the more intimate medium of string quartet date mostly from the last half of his life and in the case of his last three quartets, the last of them was completed less than a year before his death in 1975. The last three quartets work nicely as a set, which will be performed by the Emerson Quartet in a special Shostakovich centennial salute on the heels of the re-release of their stunning recordings of all fifteen quartets in a single budget box set on the Decca label. It’s a shame that Shostakovich himself never lived to hear these works played with the ferocity, virtuosity and intensity of the Emerson Quartet, but the composer usually had to settle for mediocre performances when he was lucky enough to get to hear these works at all. Like the Symphony No. 14, which explored death in all of its terror and was given a powerful performance last week by James Conlon and the Chicago Symphony, Quartet No. 15 explores death as well, but is a bit closer to resignation, albeit clearly a resignation into nothingness. (Dennis Polkow)
July 17 at Ravinia Festival’s Martin Theatre, Highland Park, (847) 266-5100. 8pm.