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Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975)
Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op. 57 31.42
Marcia Crayford, Elizabeth Layton violins Roger Chase viola
Christopher van Kampen cello - Ian Brown piano

4 Waltzes for flute,clarinet & piano (arr. Lev Atovmyan) 9.37
Philippa Davies flute,piccolo
Michael Collins clarinet - Ian Brown piano

Piano Trio No 2 in E Minor. Op.67 27.55
Marcia Crawford violin - Roger Chase viola - Ian Brown piano
CD1 69.51

Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874 - 1951)
Kammersymphonie Op. 9 (arr. Webern) 20.50
Philippa Davies flute - Michael Collins clarinet - Marcia Crayford violin
Christopher van Kampen cello - Ian Brown piano

Ode to Napoleon Op.41 14.32
Thomas Allen reciter
Marcia Crayford, Elizabeth Layton violins - Roger Chase viola
Christopher van Kampen cello - Ian Brown piano
Lionel Friend conductor

Verklärte Nacht Op. 4 28.57
Marcia Crayford, Elizabeth Layton violins
Roger Chase, Yuko Inoue violas
Christopher van Kampen, Moray Welsh cellos
CD2 64.42

Recorded Henry Wood Hall, London Nov 1990 CD1.St. Martin's Church, East Woodhay, May 1990. CD2  Virgin Classics 7243 5 61760 2 7

The latest Virgin Classics bargain priced Double CD to reach me is a coupling of Shostakovich and Schoenberg. With no obvious musical connection between the two, the peg to hang the compilation on comes from the fact that all the performers in the various combinations on the disc are members of the Nash Ensemble.

As with other releases in the series, the recordings are not brand new, but all date from 1990 and the discs are, of course, re-releases.

In Shostakovich's chronology, the Quintet and the Trio on this disc were written after his initial venture into the String Quartet (No 1 in 1938), but before he had embarked on the remainder of the magnificent cycle. The five movement Piano Quintet of 1940 is an intriguing work. The mood changes of the composer, from his deep Russian angst to bitter humour show from movement to movement in this highly varied piece. Overall the introspection and sombreness in the work outweigh the lighter moments. The opening Prelude leads into a slow Fugue which has as its basis a theme to be used later in the Fifth Symphony. The quirky Scherzo with percussive piano is typical of the composer who then writes a plaintive melody in the Intermezzo and concludes with another highly personal and utterly typical ending. A fascinating piece, and one to return to. Lovers of chamber music who do not know the work should investigate its combination of string quartet and piano and the extra tonal variety it offers. The recording is clear and well-balanced and the performance is excellent.

The other major work on the disc is the Second Piano Trio that was dedicated to a close friend of the composer who had recently died. Inevitably this musical epitaph is highly charged. The opening Andante, sparely written and doleful, leads to a bustling, slightly sardonic, second movement scherzo. The Largo, an elegy for the two strings with a minimal part for the piano, is followed by an Allegretto with Hebrew themes dominant. A powerful, almost sinister ending to an intriguing work.

Four short waltzes using material from music Shostakovich wrote for films (of over thirty in all) complete the disc. Combinations of flute, piccolo, clarinet and piano make up a charming interlude in typical encore pieces that show the composer's lighter side.

The three Schoenberg pieces that make up the second disc are a curious mixture. The Kammersymphonie (Chamber Symphony) Op. 9 was originally written by Schoenberg for 15 solo instruments before being scored for full Orchestra. Anton Webern's arrangement for flute, clarinet, violin cello and piano inevitably then must lose some of the original's complexity and colouring, though, perversely, the remaining lines can arguably be said to be more distinct. This is a competent but uninspiring performance that fails to engage the listener as it should.

The Ode to Napoleon Op.41 is a single movement serial piece for four strings and piano with a reciter, whose part is carefully notated in sprechgesang with its demanding time variations. Based upon a polemic by Lord Byron targeted at Napoleon when he decided to call himself Emperor, Schoenberg in 1942 updated the subject of the tirade to Adolf Hitler. The work is approachable and has considerable interest- if to a minority. However, as Byron's words are not included with the disc notes (though these are written in three languages), one wonders how much effect they would have on a non English-speaking listener. We in the UK complain quickly if - for instance - an English translation of German lieder is not available. As reciter, Thomas Allen is recorded set well forward and his diction is impeccable though the subject matter called for more of a ranting, less beautiful delivery. The tempo throughout was on the brisk side and the instrumentalists meet the challenge head on. For collectors seeking a recording of this work it can be safely recommended.

From the slightly known to the virtual 'pop' piece - in Schoenberg's terms, that is. It is strange to think that a piece written over a hundred years ago (1899 to be exact) is still not universally accepted. The knee jerk reaction is to the name Schoenberg rather than to his music, some of which is approachable to the listener willing to keep an open ear and mind. Like Verklärte Nacht, for instance, which is a work with some sublime moments of great beauty. It is more generally heard in its larger scale form than, as here, in its original string sextet version. The reading is intense and powerful and technically impressively played with a brightly lit recording typical of the entire disc. Another recommendation.


Harry Downey



Harry Downey

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