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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Quintet Op.57 (1940) [31:48]
4 Waltzes for Flute, Clarinet and Piano (1955) [9:46]
Piano Trio No.2 (1944) [28:04]
Nash Ensemble (Marcia Crayford, Elizabeth Layton (violins); Roger Chase (viola); Christopher van Kampen (cello); Michael Collins (clarinet); Philippa Davies (flute); Ian Brown (piano))
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 1990
VIRGIN CLASSICS 3913372 [69:54]

This recording was previously issued in 2000 by Virgin with a different cover. It now re-appears with a brand-new booklet text by Anthony Short, which covers the genesis of the Piano Quintet as the work written for the composer and the Beethoven Quartet as ‘something we can play together’; the first violinist and cellist also performing in the première of the Piano Trio. “There are some ensembles that shape the course of music history” he begins, and there was me thinking he meant the Nash Ensemble – which would equally have been true of course.
This CD holds an excellent Shostakovich programme – the symphonic duration and emotional weight of the outer works, especially the Piano Trio, being broken by the lightness and humour of the Waltzes. A number of competitors to this release are further coupled with string quartets. I am thinking of the Sorrel Quartet with Martin Roscoe on Chandos. Others, like this or the Borodin Quartet and Elisabeth Leonskaja on Warner revolve around one pianist. Either way the welcome light relief is a real bonus here. The 4 Waltzes were collected and arranged in 1955 from ballet and film scores, so those of you who know The Bolt and The Gadfly will have some pointers. Figurehead flautist Philippa Davies is impeccable as always on both flute and a delightful piccolo against Michael Collins’s dryly witty second voice in the third and last Waltz.
Ian Brown’s rhythm and drive keep the Waltzes bouncing along with warm affection, but he pulls no punches in either the Quintet or the Trio. The Nash Ensemble strings are possibly a little too forward in the balance with the Quintet, the centrally placed piano receding a little in the loudest passages, but all of the passion one could hope for is there in these recordings. It’s always a toss-up between poetic refinement or Russian grit in this music, and with the Nash Ensemble’s pedigree it is less of a surprise that the music retains poise and grandeur rather than being driven to the limits. There’s still plenty of excitement and drama there.
The needle-sharp articulation and searching melodic inventiveness of the Piano Quintet is beautifully served here, but the deeper emotional content of the Piano Trio No.2 was always going to be a defining factor in making this disc a true winner. Right from the start, the players have that balance of chamber music intimacy and chill isolation portrayed to perfection. Restraint to the point of effacement characterises the first three minutes, and the development is filled with inner tensions which launch the whole opening movement into a rich tapestry of imagery. The second Allegro non troppo has that cataclysmic quality of sardonic ‘fun’ which sets off the incredible Largo to magical effect. The players’ pacing and phrasing in this movement is superbly sustained and emotive, filled with genuine schmerz. The heavily ironic pizzicati in the final Allegretto are thrilling, with the touches of vibrato from Marcia Crayford’s violin being the blackened cherry sitting on top of Shostakovich’s non-party cake, the kind which arrives at the feast with the candles already blown out.
Aside from the enigmatic flowers on the booklet cover, this is top-notch Shostakovich. Arguably, the sheen of Nash Ensemble respectability might have been a little rougher, but the musicians dig deep where the music demands. I for one find the qualities in this recording pretty much exactly what I’m looking for when it comes to reference standards and for repeated listening in both recording and performance.
Dominy Clements


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