This recording of Shostakovich’s chamber works is an absolute delight—hauntingly beautiful, insightful and, above all, highly sentient to the mix of turmoil and soaring of Shostakovich’s life as expressed through his music. Chamber music was perceived as an act of bourgeois elitism in Stalin’s Soviet Union, even though it was precisely the form that allowed the most intimate connections between composer, musicians and their audience. So it is no surprise that Shostakovich composed eight symphonies before his second string quartet was premiered in 1944. Interestingly enough, 13 more string quartets followed in rapid succession.
String Quartet No 2 in A Major shows little connection to the stormy events of the Second World War (as opposed to his symphonies), appearing to be much more personal. It was composed in a mere 19 days and includes wonderful folk melodies, syncopated rhythms and minor modes of Gypsy/Jewish inflections. The Takács Quartet’s playing is robust and energetic in the first movement and deeply touching in the Recitative, where violin improvisatory lamentations are supported by the rest of the ensemble playing soft seventh chords. Outstanding solos are intercepted with close-knit ensemble sound in the third and fourth movements, which end majestically yet uncharacteristically in the minor key.
The Piano Quintet in G Minor premiered in 1940, becoming one of the most beloved piano quintets of all time. It contains five movements, with the emotional tension peaking in the ethereal Intermezzo and ending with a cleverly innocent Finale. Pianist Marc-André Hamelin is dominantly powerful in percussive sections while adding sublime textures to the ensemble sound in contemplative parts. Highly recommended.