Babel - Schumann, Shaw, Shostakovich / Calidore String Quartet

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The desire to explore the innate human drive for communication is the focus of Babel. For this recording the Calidore String Quartet gathered music which transmits ideas by imitating language; its rhythms, cadences and intentions. But it also explores what happens when music substitutes for language. When it fills the void of forbidden speech or even how it carries on when language has been exhausted. The result, a compilation of quartets by Schumann, Shostakovich, and Caroline Shaw, demonstrates the visceral forms of expression that exist at the intersection of music and language. The Calidore String Quartet has been praised by The New York Times for its “deep reserves of virtuosity and irrepressible dramatic instinct” and the Los Angeles Times for its balance of “intellect and expression.” Recipient of a 2018 Avery Fisher Career Grant and a 2017 Lincoln Center Award for Emerging Artists, the Calidore String Quartet first made international headlines as winner of the inaugural $100,000 Grand Prize of the 2016 M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition. The quartet was the first North American ensemble to win the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship, a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and is currently in residence with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Bowers Program (formerly CMS Two).


The Schumann comes across beautifully, with plenty of tender, intimate inner dialogue and a fine feeling for Schumann’s left-field attitude to conventional form. Maybe there could be more subversive humour, but it’s still refreshing to hear this marvellous, still under-appreciated music treated with such understanding and obvious affection.

Like many contemporary pieces, Caroline Shaw’s Three Essays comes with a detailed programme, but it’s perfectly possible to enjoy it just as abstract music: playful, heartfelt, exuberant and always surprising enough to hold the attention. The playing is as strong and persuasive here as in the Schumann.

As for the Shostakovich, the overall conception is very impressive, each of the linked movements growing out of the previous one with a powerful sense of inevitability. The control of the two/three-in-a-bar rhythmic games in the finale is particularly well brought off. Where it’s slightly weaker – strange, given the disc’s declared intentions – is in that urgent, impassioned directness that characterises the finest Shostakovich quartet performances. Expressive and shapely as they are, the solo lines don’t sound as though they’re burning, aching to confide in you.

This is quality quartet playing, sympathetically recorded, but in the Shostakovich it just falls a couple of inches short of excellent.

-- BBC Music Magazine

Product Description:

  • Release Date: October 23, 2020

  • Catalog Number: SIGCD650

  • UPC: 635212065020

  • Label: Signum Classics

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Robert Schumann, Caroline Shaw, Dmitri Shostakovich

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Calidore String Quartet


  1. Quartet for Strings No. 3 in A Major, Op. 41, No. 3

    Composer: Robert Schumann

    Ensemble: Calidore String Quartet

  2. Three Essays

    Composer: Caroline Shaw

    Ensemble: Calidore String Quartet

  3. String Quartet No. 9 in E-Flat Major, Op. 117

    Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich

    Ensemble: Calidore String Quartet