Shostakovich's string quartet enchants during the opening weekend of the Stoller Hall

Shh, everyone! Hunt’s Bank is awash with music. The showbiz phenomenon that is Sheeran (Ed) is packing the Arena, while across the road a Shostakovich (Dmitri) string quartet is transfixing a rather more select crowd (it only seats 480) on the opening weekend of the Stoller Hall.

I’m at the latter, thankfully, to see the Navarra Quartet - with strong Chet’s links - provide a luminous performance of the Soviet composer’s taxing and tortured No.5, kept under wraps until after the death of Stalin, whose constant surveillance cast a dark shadow over his whole oeuvre.

That dark shadow is prevalent in the middle movement, which quotes themes from suppressed Shostakovich works, ghostly, desolate, glacial. I found myself up at the vast white upper reaches of the new hall, its acoustic perfection creating a sonic abyss. All far removed from the jolly celebratory tone of the opening weekend, but then this is just part of a yearlong Chetham’s celebration of this whole quartet cycle, performed by a variety of ensembles. 

It’s hard to believe any of the participants can match the fervour of the Navarra, who brought this austere, restless, complex work to life, especially good in the fleeting  moments of lyrical transcendence. 

By the end the first half’s nimble juxtaposition of Schubert’s Quartettsatz and Beethoven’s First Quartet seem just casual jeux d’esprits when set against the angst and anxieties of what was to come. Music still offers more than anodyne arena pleasers.

To book further instalments of the Shostakovich series at the Stoller Hall visit