Like a few composers before him, Shostakovich wrote just one Piano Quintet, but it’s a blockbuster, capable of standing on a program next to the genre’s great 19th-century exemplars. Still, ensembles these days would be forgiven for thinking twice before taking on a new recording of the work, as two landmark accounts already cast a long shadow: the Borodin Quartet’s version with the reclusive Soviet keyboard titan Sviatoslav Richter, and the Beethoven Quartet’s version, with the composer himself at the keyboard.
Evidently the Takács Quartet was nevertheless undaunted, as it chose to tackle the Piano Quintet for what appears to be, surprisingly, its very first Shostakovich recording. The group is joined by Boston-based pianist Marc-André Hamelin, with whom it performed the same work locally in Jordan Hall a few seasons back.
This performance locks you in from the opening bars, a vehement piano solo after which all four Takács members lay into an ensemble attack at full strength. The playing has bite and sinew, and that first string entrance may conjure the image of a river overflowing its banks. The second movement is a wonderfully contrasting adagio, an introspective fugue that somehow gives the impression of regarding the world from a great distance. The Takács spins out this mysterious music with supreme delicacy and expressive modesty. There is a matte quality to its sound that cuts to the quick. Hamelin plays throughout with virtuosity and idiomatic flair, and his chemistry with the Takács is palpable.
In addition to the Quintet, a sharply etched reading of Shostakovich’s Second Quartet fills out this disc—and then some.