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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 – 1975)
Piano Quintet Op.57 (1940)
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934 – 1998)

Piano Quintet (1975)
Boris Berman (piano); Vermeer Quartet
Recorded: Glenn Gould Studio, CBC, Toronto, December 2000
NAXOS 8.554830 [56:25]


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These two works are not as strange bedfellows as they might at first seem. Indeed, both are among the most personal statements of their respective composers. Shostakovich often confided his most intimate feelings in his chamber works, particularly so in his masterly string quartets, the Second Piano Trio, the Viola Sonata and the Piano Quintet Op.57 completed in 1940 after the mixed reception accorded to his Sixth Symphony a few months earlier. Curiously enough, the Piano Quintet was well received and was even awarded the Stalin Prize in 1941. Such was the incoherence of the Stalinist Regime, and Shostakovich had to face official approval as well as official disapproval for most of his long composing career. The Piano Quintet clearly belongs to the same musical and emotional world as the celebrated Fifth Symphony or the undeservedly less popular Sixth Symphony. Its five movements encompass a wide range of emotions expressed in clear, straightforward terms. No wonder it has since remained a favourite among his chamber works.

Schnittke began his Piano Quintet in 1972 in the wake of his mother’s death to whose memory the work is dedicated, but put it aside for several years and eventually completed it in 1975. By that time, Schnittke’s polystylism, exacerbated in the First Symphony and often predominant in many important works, has been assimilated in a more coherent style often under the shadow of Mahler and Shostakovich as in the Third and Fifth Symphonies. The five movements of the Piano Quintet also reflect a wide emotional range and are sometimes tinged with some bitter-sweet nostalgia as in the rather ghostly In Tempo di Valse second movement or with refrained anger in other movements. Some time later, Schnittke orchestrated his piano quintet as In Memoriam. This is one of his most sincere, deeply moving major works, in whatever version.

I find nothing to complain about this release. These committed and well recorded readings have nevertheless to face some competition, and there may be finer performances or subtler readings of these pieces; but you need not hesitate if this particular coupling appeals to you.

Hubert Culot


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