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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57a (1940) [30'55]. String Quartets – No. 1 in C, Op. 49 (1938) [13'00]; No. 4 in D, Op. 83 (1949) [22'07].
Ewa Kupiec (piano)a;
Petersen String Quartet (Conrad Muck, Daniel Bell, violins; Friedemann Weigle, viola; Henry-David Varema, cello).
Rec. Studio 2, Bavarian Radio, Munich on October 20th-23rd, 2003. DDD
CAPRICCIO 67 082 [66'19]


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Young string quartets playing Shostakovich seem to be a pretty commonplace occurrence these days – on the subject of which, my review of the Sorrel Quartet on Chandos playing a remarkably similar programme is appearing simultaneously (see review).

Interestingly on the present Capriccio release, the booklet gives a biography of the quartet but contents itself with a photo of Kupiec. A shame, as by implication this seems to diminish the stature of the Piano Quintet, almost as if their 'guest' is an afterthought. Actually, the Quintet receives a competent performance, enjoyable at the time without displacing allegiance to the two recordings by the Borodin Quartet, with guests Leonskaja and Richter. The work itself is wonderful, premiered by the composer himself (with the Glazunov Quartet).

Kupiec and the Petersen Quartet give an account of the opening Lento that is fairly determined without entering into Richter-like ruggedness. As the performance continues, it becomes clear that the strings are more committed than the pianist, and it is the Quartet's maintenance of a concentrated atmosphere that really impresses. Their extended pianissimo in the Adagio Fugue is breathtaking. It is in the fugue that they project a sense of desolate space. By keeping it so hushed, the listener is forced to participate, to strain.

A shame therefore that the Scherzo is rather tame, and it is here that the recording reveals itself to be close but insubstantial as well. The sense of bleak inevitability around the Intermezzo is good, and the projection of the finale's mood as happy in a suppressed ‘undertoney’ way is enjoyable. This is confirmed by the sweetly shadowy close.

Shostakovich himself referred to his First Quartet as 'vernal', and there is a real sense of freshness about it. The Petersen Quartet emphasises this aspect, holding back warmth from the opening in favour of a more open sound. They are in no rush – this is as laid back as the ensuing grazioso. Only the finale seems a little damp.

The quartet finally find the depth of expression required in the slow movement of the Fourth Quartet (an Andantino), where controlled anguish is the order of the day, a thread that follows through into the shadowy, shifting third movement. A shame they do not keep it up as the finale again, while being fairly dynamic, needs that little bit more.

A mixed disc, then, that only intermittently cuts the Shostakovichian mustard.

Colin Clarke






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