Janine Jansen and Friends play Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor, opus 57; one of the composer’s best-known chamber works. It is written for piano and string quartet (two violins, viola, and cello). This performance was recorded during Janine Jansen’s Internationaal Kamermuziek Festival Utrecht (International Chamber Music Festival) on December 30, 2012.
- Janine Jansen, violin
- Boris Brovtsyn, violin
- Maxim Rysanov, viola
- Torleif Thedéen, cello
- Eldar Nebolsin, piano
Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet
The Beethoven quartet, based in Moscow, were so impressed with Shostakovich’s first string quartet that they asked him to compose a piano quintet which would feature Shostakovich himself on piano. This piece became a resounding success, earning Shostakovich the prestigious Stalin Prize as well as a cash award of 100,000 rubles, which is often cited as the highest amount ever awarded for a chamber music work. Although it was one of his earlier works in the chamber music genre, Shostakovich’s quintet is now considered one of his most beloved compositions and is often mentioned in the same breath as other great piano quintets by composers like Schumann, Brahms, and Franck.
The quintet is in five movements:
- Prelude: Lento
- Fugue: Adagio
- Scherzo: Allegretto
- Intermezzo: Lento
- Finale: Allegretto
The entire quintet is imbued with traditional forms and modes of expression. In particular, the first two movements offer a massive prelude and fugue that harken back to the finest examples of Bach’s work. Shostakovich was an accomplished and artistic contrapuntal, and his masterful fugues can be found throughout his entire body of work.
In fact, his own set of 24 preludes and fugues for piano, inspired by Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, demonstrates his ability to offer a modern voice within an ancient tradition. The prelude and fugue in the quintet take on an additional dimension, as the natural division between strings and piano allows for both multi-part textures on their own as well as a unified ensemble. The fugue employs a variety of traditional techniques, including a prominent countersubject.
The third movement of the quintet is a fantastic scherzo and trio, which could stand alone as a highpoint of the work, suitable for an encore. In stark contrast to the poise and grandeur of the prelude and fugue, the scherzo dances with a wild, rustic abandon, filled with colorful parody and dark sarcasm – all typical of Shostakovich’s unique style.
The second slow movement, an intermezzo placed between the scherzo and finale, is less traditional. It showcases another side of Shostakovich’s artistry that is evident throughout his work: an intimate sorrow that rises to a peak of anguish, a plodding sense of fate underlying a poignant song. However, it is only a brief glimpse, an intermezzo that quickly fades into the relaxed tone of a breezy, uplifting conclusion.
The finale of Shostakovich’s piano quintet is structured with a clearly articulated classical sonata form that features distinctive themes and a development section. A march-like feel is constantly present, occasionally building to grand gestures, while a brief recollection of the intermezzo clouds an otherwise sunny conclusion.
Throughout the work, Shostakovich masterfully maintains a remarkable clarity of texture, avoiding the dense and quasi-orchestral grandiosity that is often found in piano quintets. This is due in large part to the relatively restrained piano part and the fluid, dynamic ensemble where all five instruments are rarely active at the same time.
The Piano Quintet is considered to be one of Shostakovich’s most personal works, as it was written during a difficult time in his life. The composer was facing political pressures and criticism from the Soviet government, and the quintet is often seen as an expression of his inner turmoil and anxiety.
Despite its complex and often dark themes, the work is also filled with moments of lyricism and beauty and is widely regarded as one of the great masterpieces of the chamber music repertoire.
- Piano Quintet (Shostakovich) on Wikipedia
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