Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets provide a very personal response to the events that were taking place in the Soviet Union during his lifetime, and are among his most popular works. The three quartets heard here are not linked, but they are similar in some respects, all beginning with an understated intimacy, their simple ideas becoming tense and turbulent, eventually reaching some kind of uneasy calm. The haunting Quartet No. 4 was composed in 1949, when Soviet Jewish culture was under real threat. Shostakovich’s blatant use of Jewish motifs in the bittersweet fourth movement would not have pleased the Soviet authorities at the time so it was not performed until 1953, after Stalin’s death.The string quartets 11 to 14 are all dedicated to members of the Beethoven String Quartet, who gave the first performances of nearly all the quartets. The cryptic but elegiac Quartet No.11, composed in 1966, marks the start of Shostavich’s late period. Quartet No.14 was written two years before Shostakovich’s death in 1975, its close a lingering farewell. The Hagen Quartet, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, is one of the most highly respected string quartets in the world. They are noted for the precision of their ensemble playing and the colour and nuance they bring to performance, all of which help them to unearth deeper emotions beneath the surface. This recording was made in 1993.