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Dmitry SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Quintet for Piano and Strings in G minor, Op. 57 (1940) [31:14]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Quintet for Piano and Strings in D minor, Op. 89 (1906) [30:41]
James Dick (piano)
Eusia Quartet: Kazuhiro Takagi and Janne Tateno (violins); Yukiko Ogura (viola); Adrien Zitoun (cello)
rec. 11-12 March 2005 (Shostakovich); 6-7 April 2006 (Fauré); Festival Concert Hall, Festival Hill, Round Top, Texas.
ROUND TOP RTR 013 [61:55] 


Since 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.

Dmitry 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. 

By 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.

Our 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. 

Gabriel 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.

This 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.

There 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.

Program 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.

Kevin Sutton







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