Shostakovich: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Piano Quintet in G minor

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Piano Quintet in G minor
PERFORMER: Martin Helmchen (piano); Pieter Schoeman, Vesselin Gellev (violin), Alexander Zemtsov (viola), Kristina Blaumane (cello); LPO/Vladimir Jurowski


 These highly acceptable accounts of the two Shostakovich piano concertos are live performances from the Royal Festival Hall in 2008 (No. 1) and 2009 (No. 2). The sound quality is excellent, and the young soloist Martin Helmchen shows himself adept in all aspects of No. 1’s quirky humour and satirical modernism, No. 2’s playful high spirits and – in the famous Andante – a nostalgic romanticism Rachmaninov might have been proud of. In No. 1 he’s ably seconded by Paul Beniston’s assertive and characterful trumpet playing. Altogether, these are enjoyable and safely recommendable versions of both works, though in No. 1, at least, I would not prefer Helmchen over the fiery duos of Leif Ove Andsnes and Håkan Hardenberger with the CBSO (EMI), or Martha Argerich and Sergei Nakariakov, also on EMI.

What makes this disc more special is a truly superb account of Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet, recorded in studio conditions at Henry Wood Hall. Helmchen, with Pieter Schoeman and Vesselin Gellev (violins), Alexander Zemtsov (viola) and Kristina Blaumane (cello), turns in a searching, expressive, witty, fantastical account of this multi-faceted work. This could stand with Argerich’s account (coupled with her Piano Concerto No. 1 on EMI) or Elisabeth Leonskaya and the Borodin Quartet on Teldec. The composer’s 1949 version with the Beethoven Quartet (Doremi) remains the ultimate benchmark, of course, but this is one of the most impressive performances of the work that I’ve heard in recent years. Calum MacDonald