Amati Quartet / Bruno Canino

Shostakovich: Klavierquintett; Streichquartett No. 12

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Here's a superior Shostakovich chamber music release by Italian pianist Bruno Canino and the multinational Amati Quartett. Part of the attraction is the presence of a genuine masterpiece that is done full justice here, yet has been neglected in the past: the Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57, of 1940. The Soviet bureaucracy, which always gave Shostakovich trouble, loved this work, and Prokofiev criticized it, which may have given it a bad reputation. But Canino and the Amati tune into its unique tone of withdrawal from the world. The quintet might be called neo-classical; it begins with a prelude and fugue, and finishes with three more short movements in classical forms. But it's not like any other neo-classical work ever written; in Canino's hands it comes off as an assertion of the value of the concert music tradition in the midst of the horrors to come and the horrors that had already occurred in Russia. The fugue is an extraordinary piece, extended to great length in a kind of defiance against despair. The String Quartet No. 12 is a more common work, often cited as one of Shostakovich's near approaches to the twelve-tone technique. In this context -- buttressed by a remarkable article unearthed by annotator Marco Frei in which the composer opined that dodecaphony was best suited to the expression of depression, complete exhaustion, or the fear of death -- the quartet emerges as another take on the emotion of fear that also underlies the Piano Quintet. The modern interpretation of Shostakovich as a composer who, perhaps more than any other, expresses the predicament of the creative artist trapped within awesome social forces beyond his or her control is given uniquely deep life here; the players are technically comfortable with the music, and they hit an emotional tone and sustain it. Strongly recommended.

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