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Shostakovich, Weinberg: Piano Quintets / Kirschnereit, Szymanowski Quartet

Weinberg / Shostakovich / Szymanowski Quartet
Release Date: 03/29/2011 
Label:  Swr Music   Catalog #: 93260   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Mieczyslaw WeinbergDmitri Shostakovich
Performer:  Matthias Kirschnereit
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Szymanowski String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 16 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Quintet. WEINBERG Piano Quintet Matthias Kirschnereit (pn); Szymanowski Qrt HÄNSSLER 93.260 (75:58)

The close friendship and working relationship between Dmitri Shostakovich and Mieczyslaw Weinberg (or Moishe Vainberg) for approximately three decades seems to have clouded some commentators’ opinion of Weinberg’s music, with claims that range from vague influence to outright mimicry. In this context, “influence,” of Read more course, is a word loaded with unfavorable connotations, and being of much greater critical stature, Shostakovich’s reputation is considered unassailable, so any perceived similarities in their respective musics, according to this line of thought, must result from a lack of originality in Weinberg. And yet isn’t it likely that, living in the extreme circumstances that existed in Soviet Russia from the 1940s to the 1970s, even distinctive creative artists would reflect some shared characteristics of mood, style, and material (including melodic effects drawn from familiar folk music, popular music, and deeper classical influences)? Who is to say how the late-night discussions between these two friends may have affected each in his own way? Moreover, critical articles have revealed how some of Shostakovich’s later chamber pieces were “influenced” to some degree by the music of his much younger student and intimate Galina Ustvolskaya. Why therefore might not the influences between Shostakovich and Weinberg be reciprocal as well? I’m not attempting to cast aspersions on the greatness of Shostakovich, merely to suggest that influences between contemporaries seldom run in one direction only, and that perhaps Weinberg is due a little more credit than he has previously received.

Certainly, this piano quintet, composed five years after Shostakovich’s appeared, could be heard as motivated by the kind of dark, probing, contemplative impetus that we identify with Shostakovich—even though his most brooding, vulnerably introspective works (such as the violin and cello concerti, the piano preludes and fugues, the violin and viola sonatas, and all but two of his string quartets) were yet to be written. Weinberg’s Piano Quintet is a product of the war years, and so not unexpectedly there are contrasting impulses—irony and distortion in a nostalgic waltz; canny, cautious emotional disclosures; forceful, agitated, insistent rhythmic figures; a psychological chromaticism in the development of themes; even a Brahmsian sense of drama without losing the lyrical thread. But these are all handled deftly, and surprising details set this music apart—notice how the shivering rhythm in the strings that opens the Presto evolves into a swooping motif with a consequential shift in emotion, and the biting, relentless repetition in the final movement shifts almost incongruously into an ironic gigue and then a powerful intimation of boogie-woogie piano before its dying conclusion. This is a work worthy to stand beside Shostakovich’s quintet, and to be judged on its own considerable merits.

One wonders if, as Shostakovich’s quintet is so much better known, pianist Matthias Kirschnereit and the members of the Szymanowski Quartet may not have added, even subconsciously, an extra jolt of intensity to their performance of Weinberg’s music in order to bring it to wider attention. Tempo-wise, their Shostakovich covers a middle ground, quicker than the Borodin Quartet with Sviatoslav Richter (EMI), more measured than the Vermeer Quartet with Boris Berman (Naxos), to name just two distinguished accounts, and they emphasize key points with subtle dynamics and nuanced phrasing rather than tonal or rhythmic exaggeration. Theirs is a dry but serious perspective. The Intermezzo, for example, is somber, not pushy; the Fugue counterpoint is restrained but not detached; and the satiric passages in the Scherzo haven’t the bite of the Vermeer/Berman. Nevertheless, though a convincing, if subdued performance, it is overshadowed in this instance by their commitment to the Weinberg quintet, which is perhaps as it should be.

FANFARE: Art Lange
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Works on This Recording

Quintet for Piano and Strings, Op. 18 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Performer:  Matthias Kirschnereit (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Szymanowski String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; USSR 
Venue:  Kammermusikstudio des SWR Stuttgart 
Length: 43 Minutes 14 Secs. 
Quintet for Piano and Strings in G minor, Op. 57 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Performer:  Matthias Kirschnereit (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Szymanowski String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; USSR 
Venue:  Kammermusikstudio des SWR Stuttgart 
Length: 31 Minutes 17 Secs. 

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