Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 2; Piano Quintet

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: String Quartet No. 2; Piano Quintet
PERFORMER: Takács Quartet; Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67987

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This appears to be the Takács Quartet’s first recorded venture into Shostakovich and as such proves to be a highly engrossing experience. Like the Hagen Quartet, the Takács come to the music from a somewhat different angle to their Soviet and Russian counterparts, emphasising closer connections with Western musical traditions than is usual. In the first movement of Quartet No. 2, for example, the Takács’s deliberate exaggeration of the hurdy-gurdy drones that accompany the first idea draws obvious comparisons with analogous passages in Bartók’s Quartets. Likewise, in the ensuing ‘Recitative and Romance’, Edward Dusinberre’s nobly sculpted violin cadenza seems to invoke late Beethoven rather more than the frequently suggested allusions to Jewish cantilena. Maybe the Takács’s comparatively cool approach to the muted third movement ‘Waltz’ robs the music of some its underlying anxiety, but this conception works effectively as a prelude to the following ‘Theme and Variations’ where the players aim for formal coherence rather than adopting the tactic of inflating the movement’s often bizarre contrasts of mood.

The performance of the Piano Quintet is no less enthralling, Marc-André Hamelin’s supremely intelligent chamber music playing providing an admirable foil to the subtle textures conjured by the string players. Especially impressive is the Bachian severity and grandeur of their approach to the Prelude and Fugue, the latter movement taken at a daringly slow tempo that builds up inexorably to a powerful and emotionally harrowing climax.Although Hyperion’s recording of the piano lacks an element of warmth, it does not detract seriously from my enjoyment of this outstanding disc.

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Erik Levi