Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 1 in C, Op. 49; Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57; Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1 in C, Op. 49; Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57; Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67
PERFORMER: St Petersburg Quartet; Igor Uryash (piano)
Shostakovich’s First Quartet may not plumb the depths of despair of its successors, but it is a work of greater emotional substance than its modest proportions might suggest. This impression certainly emerges from the St Petersburg Quartet’s probing interpretation. Taking an unusually broad view of the second movement, the players expose its underlying vein of melancholy, bringing unexpected intensity to the folk-like simplicity of the material. Similarly, the fleet-of- foot scherzo, delivered here at a hair-raising speed, sounds uneasy and neurotic, casting a shadow over the normally exuberant finale. The two piano chamber works also benefit from the St Petersburg’s interpretative insights. This is particularly apparent in the Intermezzo of the Piano Quintet where its slow tempo and heavy articulation transform a movement often presented as lightweight into a profoundly resigned funeral march. Bringing a different emotional perspective here helps to effect an especially convincing transition to the gentle more playful mood of the finale – a passage handled with particular mastery by pianist Igor Uryash. Among the most impressive aspects of the Second Piano Trio are the brilliantly controlled accelerando in the first movement and the careful build-up of tension in the finale. In the scherzo, the players opt for a lighter articulation than is presented on the most recent recording from the Wanderer Trio (Harmonia Mundi), yet this approach does not lessen the sarcastic impact of the music. With a superb recording to boot, this release provides an extremely fitting conclusion to the St Petersburg’s excellent Shostakovich cycle. I have no hesitation in recommending the performance of the First Quartet. In the other works, however, Elisabeth Leonskaja and the Borodin Quartet on Elatus remain peerless, their performance of the Trio in particular exploiting an even wider degree of nuance, from the frozen wasteland of the opening to the venom and anger of the finale. Erik Levi