1971, pianist James Dick has led the annual International
Festival-Institute for Music at historic Round Top, Texas. Each year the festival produces a number of chamber music recordings
and this disc is from the most recent batch.
Shostakovich, whose centennial we celebrate this year was
born in the year that Fauré composed his Piano Quintet. No
two worlds could have been further apart than the early twentieth
century France known to the mature Fauré, and the waning Romanov dynasty under which
Shostakovich first saw the light of day.
1940, Shostakovich had begun to recover from the stern official
rebuke that his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District
had brought down upon him. His fifth symphony was
a populist hit, and he was even awarded the very first Stalin
Prize for the Quintet recorded here. It is work much patterned
after the keyboard partitas of Bach, cast in five movements,
rich in tonal harmony and interesting folk melodies. To put
it simply, this is hauntingly beautiful music, infused with
thick textures stacked layer upon layer, with contrasting
fast movements full of rhythmic interest and vitality. At
times this music is downright sunny in nature, and the bouncing
scherzo is vigorous and dancing.
ensemble is of one mind about this music, and play off each
other in a most collegial manner. James Dick plays with precise
rhythmic clarity and a warm rich tone, which never becomes
brittle in the upper registers. The Eusia quartet, while still
fairly young, play with a strong sense of ensemble, and provide
some beautiful amber tones. Although the ensemble’s playing
is incredibly atmospheric, I sometimes wondered if a slightly
faster tempo would have benefited the music here and there,
particularly in the last movement which seemed to me to lack
forward motion. The highlight of this performance is the splendid
Fugue, which is masterful in its structure and played to perfection.
Fauré’s Quintet, composed 34 years before Shostakovich’s is
a horse of a completely different color. Dreamy and sunny,
this work lay on the composer’s desk for some time as a sketch
for a third piano quartet, before it was expanded in
its instrumentation. The only work of Fauré’s to be published
in the United States; it was first performed from
hand written parts due to the state of flux with publishers
in which the composer found himself when the work was finished.
That it saw print at all is due in large part to Charles Martin
Loeffler, who, while living in Boston, arranged to have the work published
by the American firm of G. Schirmer. This American publication
is most likely the reason that the work went underperformed
for so long. Early twentieth century Americans were less enthusiastic
about fine chamber music that their European counterparts
and it took some time for the parts to become available in
the Old World.
is a work of sublime serenity, opening with a rhapsodic movement
that is awash in melody, lush proto-Ravelian harmonies, and
robust sweeping textures. In spite of the small ensemble,
the sound plate is all but orchestral in nature. The second
movement is quite romantic and is rife with one gorgeous melody
after another. The final movement is peaceful and sunny, rolling
along like the view from a carriage on a country ride.
is practically nothing to fault in this performance. Balance
and ensemble are dead on; tempi are carefully chosen and fit
the music like a glove. The string playing is warm and spacious
and Mr. Dick piano shines in a glow of silvery elegance. This
is some of the most cooperative chamber music playing that
I have ever heard, totally devoid of needless show and pretence.
It is what fine music making should be: playing in service
to the music for the purpose of edifying the listener.
notes are concise and contain just the right balance of anecdotal
interest and scholarship. Sound quality is rich and warm and
always beautifully balanced, and there is thankfully no extraneous
performer noise (read grunting and sniffing) that mar so many
chamber music recording. This is a recording worthy of pride
of place in any collection.