Belcea Quartet / Piotr Anderszewski

Shostakovich: Quartet No. 3; Quintet

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It tends to be Russian performers who capture the dark, emotional undercurrents of Shostakovich's music, but few chamber groups have ever done it as well as the Belcea Quartet, a London-based group of central and eastern European players. Neither the Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57, nor the String Quartet No. 3 in F major, Op. 73, is a commonly played work, but taken together, in the Belcea's more-than-capable hands, they have a powerful impact. Both are irregular in shape, with five movements each, and both reflect feelings of deep trepidation. In the case of the Piano Quintet, Shostakovich was recovering from his Stalin-inspired denunciation, and the work reflects alternately an effort to adapt to government demands, in the exploration of the safe prelude and fugue in the first two movements (which earned praise from Prokofiev), and anger toward them, in the sharp, slightly jazz-flavored Scherzo. Sample especially the finale, which tries to be tame and lighthearted but succeeds only in embodying uncertainty. The String Quartet No. 3 came from 1946, and its slow movement especially places it among the Shostakovich works haunted by war. The Belcea's performances are wonderfully sensitive to the unique ebb and flow of this music, and they are complemented by fine Britten Studio sound from the revived Alpha label; especially in the pizzicato passage of the Quartet No. 3, the effect is really uncanny.

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