Various Artists

Shostakovich: Piano Quintet; Ustvolskaya: Octet; Composition No. 3; Symphony No. 5

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While Shostakovich's serene Piano Quintet in G minor is presented as the main attraction on this RCA disc, the lion's share of the program is devoted to the less celebrated and more challenging works of his student and friend, Galina Ustvolskaya. Yet as important as her music was to Shostakovich, and as critical as his teaching was to her development, the pieces recorded here do not clearly or convincingly illustrate the connections between them. Indeed, Ustvolskaya's Octet is strikingly unlike Shostakovich, for the language is more stringently atonal, and the layering techniques, brutal ostinati, and disjointed rhythms are more like Stravinsky or Varèse. Composition No. 3 (Benedictus qui venit) and the Symphony No. 5, "Amen," are equally avant-garde in approach, and also show a strong preoccupation with religious matters, utterly foreign to anything in Shostakovich's secular output. So when the sweet, Classically oriented Piano Quintet follows Ustvolskaya's darkly dissonant works, one may be skeptical about the composers' relationship and the depth of their influences on each other. The performances by pianist Kathryn Stott, reciter Sergei Leiferkus, and the London Musici, conducted by Mark Stephenson, are all polished and professional, and RCA's sound is fine. But the point of the album is murky and listeners may well be puzzled by what they hear.

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