Shostakovich, Schoenberg

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schoenberg,Shostakovich
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57; Four Waltzes for flute, clarinet & piano; Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor
PERFORMER: Nash Ensemble; Thomas Allen (reciter)
CATALOGUE NO: VBD 5 61760 2 Reissue (1991, 1993)
Putting Shostakovich and Schoenberg back to back is a good idea, especially as this is Schoenberg at his most approachable. Even the toughest piece (the Ode to Napoleon), with Thomas Allen’s sturdy rendition of Byron’s poem, will sustain the interest of all but the most wool-dyed anti-modernist; and since it’s basically a piano quintet with voice it makes an intriguing foil to Shostakovich’s Quintet. And it’s good to hear Webern’s superbly focused and seldom-recorded arrangement for five instruments of the First Chamber Symphony, making yet another quintet.

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These are excellent performances, well-recorded. Admittedly good Verklärte Nachts are legion nowadays (such as the Leipzig Quartet’s on MDG), but this Nash version can hold its head up in their company. No modern version, however, has compared for opulent insight with the augmented Hollywood String Quartet 50 years ago. And while the Nash players bring deep thoughtfulness and studied elegance to Shostakovich’s Quintet, for raw authenticity of experience nothing matches the composer’s own 1955 recording with the Beethoven Quartet. Calum MacDonald