Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor first came into the world as his second string quartet. Then he wrote what we now know as his A Major, No 2 and reworked the G Minor piece into a quintet so that he could join the Beethoven Quartet on piano when the two works were premiered. They therefore sit side by side very comfortably on disc, and they could be in no better hands than those of the Takács Quartet and Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin.
This excellent Hyperion release marks the Takács’ first recorded venture into Shostakovich territory, and it is most welcome. From the quartet’s densely layered opening moments it’s obvious that the Colorado-based foursome are very much at home here. The Recitative and Romance second movement, which poured out of Shostakovich in a single day and probably with late Beethoven in mind, is perfect for Edward Dusinberre’s distinctive solo violin.
The Piano Quintet, on the other hand, gives several nods to JS Bach, especially in the pivotal Fugue. Here Hamelin – a Hyperion regular with 50 albums under his belt – makes an exciting companion for arguably the world’s finest quartet. Together they manage to eke out little touches of humanity – some gentle wit here and lush lyricism there – which are often lacking in other readings. In among the austere counterpoint they capture shafts of wintry sunshine and from this characterful performance we see why this piece became known for its “five movements, of which there are seven” because the Scherzo and Finale were so often encored in early performances.
For this reviewer, this disc ranks alongside the landmark Beaux Arts’ recording with Eugene Drucker and Lawrence Dutton from the late 1980s. One wonders if we will hear more Shostakovich from the Takács. What a delicious prospect that is!