Piano Quintet in g minor, Op.57 (1942)1 [32:10]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp (1916/17)2 [17:28]
Jane BROCKMAN (b.1949)
Trio for flute, cello and piano: Feast of Fives3 [12:00]
Chamber Music Palisades (Susan Greenberg (flute)2,3;
Delores Stevens (piano)1,3; JoAnn Turovsky (harp)2;
Roger Wilkie (violin)1; Rene Mandel (violin)1;
Paul Coletti (viola)1,2; Peter Stumpf (cello))1,3
rec. Zipper Auditorium, Colburn School for Performing Arts, Los
Angeles, California, 19 December, 2005.
HD video. 24-bit/96kHx audio: 5.1 Dolby HD, 5.1 Dolby Digital or
Also available as 2-sided DVD (DVD-Video and DVD-Audio AIX80052)
AIX RECORDS AIX85052 [62:01]
The main recording has been available since 2008 in two-sided
DVD format – one side playable as a DVD-Video and the other
as a DVD-Audio. The advent of Blu-ray means that one disc suffices
for both formats, since the sound content on any Blu-ray recording
is potentially superior to that of DVD-Video and DVD-Audio discs.
My first reaction was that this is a very eclectic collection
of music, with no linking theme other than the members of the
LA-based Palisades group. Most recordings of the Shostakovich
Quintet come more logically coupled – with other music
by Shostakovich, especially chamber works, or other Piano Quintets.
Secondly, would the contemporary piece stick out like a sore
thumb in the context of its elders? The other question which
I find inevitable with video recordings of orchestral or chamber
music is whether we really need to see the performance.
I’ll take that last question first. There’s so much slick camerawork,
with the performers shot from various angles and at varying
degrees of distance, and with so much recording paraphernalia
in view in several of the shots, that I soon transferred the
disc to my audio setup. That gave me a better opportunity to
judge the quality of the recording: the Cambridge Audio blu-ray/SACD
player in that system is superior to the Philips blu-ray player
linked to my TV and the quality of the amplifier and speakers
is, of course, far superior to anything that a television can
offer. If you enjoy seeing the performers from all angles, stay
with the visuals, but they are not for me.
My benchmarks for the Shostakovich are the Chandos recording
with Martin Roscoe and the Sorrel Quartet (CHAN10329) and Ian
Brown with the Schidlof Quartet on Linn CKD065, with String
Quartets Nos.4 and 7. I reviewed the Linn in my September 2009
Download Roundup, where I thought that the performance of the
Quintet had all the passion that was missing in the Quartets.
The Linn is worth buying for the Quintet alone, but the Chandos
is more recommendable overall, with equally fine performances
of Quartets Nos.1 and 12 – volume 6 in a very recommendable
series. Colin Clarke thought it ‘a most impressive release’
– see review.
The timings on the AIX recording are close to those on Linn
– very close, in fact, with both at the faster end of the spectrum.
On a Hyperion recording which has received praise in some quarters,
Igor Uryash and the St Petersburg Quartet are significantly
slower than either in every movement except the finale, where
all three versions come in within a couple of seconds either
side of 7 minutes. The timings on the Chandos version fall almost
exactly between these extremes, except in the finale, where
they are marginally slower than all the others. Regular readers
will know that I tend to prefer the middle way where there are
diversities of timing, but that isn’t the only reason why I
marginally prefer the Roscoe/Sorrel Quartet version of this
work to the new Aix recording.
In the Prelude there is little to choose between the Chandos
and Aix performances – both capture the sense of underlying
menace beneath the lyricism, though I think that Roscoe and
his partners achieve this slightly more effectively, especially
as the movement progresses, by giving the music just a little
more time to breathe. Paradoxically, though I found the ‘busy’
camera-work distracting, the Aix recording seems more dramatic
with the visuals than without. Despite the wonders of the blu-ray
technology, I find the Chandos recording a little more immediate
than the Aix and the piano tone a trifle less hard but, again,
there is not a great deal in it.
The second movement fugue is the longest and is, for me, the
key to the whole work. Once again the Chandos performers give
the music just a little more room to expand – I now think the
Linn performance slightly too hurried here. The music starts
almost from nothing and gently, imperceptibly but inexorably
expands, then dies away, and Roscoe’s team capture this very
effectively. Once again, I give them a small edge over the Palisades
performers, who again soften the edge of the underlying menace
a little by comparison.
The Aix notes describe the scherzo as erupting in a frenzy of
activity. I think of this movement as Shostakovich’s equivalent
of the fourth movement of Beethoven’s B-flat String Quartet,
Op.130: there’s the same unleashed manic activity, suggestive
of the medieval dancers of Colbek, who, cursed by their parish
priest for dancing in the churchyard, could not stop for a year.
(The story, from Robert Mannyng’s Handlyng Synne, can
be found in Kenneth Sisam’s Fourteenth Century Verse and
Prose from the Oxford University Press.) Once again it’s
the Chandos version which achieves that effect slightly more
than the newer recording: this time it’s a few seconds faster
than any of the rival versions which I’ve consulted.
The linked fourth movement and finale come over well in all
three versions, Linn, Aix and Chandos. Once again my preference
is for the Chandos, marginally – all three agree very closely
about the tempo for the intermezzo, but the Chandos version
holds back the momentum at the opening of the finale where the
Hyperion performers, having been the slowest in all the other
movement, are marginally faster than either the Linn or Aix
versions. There’s not much in it – 25 seconds between the Chandos
and Hyperion versions at the extremes – but I just prefer the
sense of energy under control here from Roscoe and the Sorrel
I’m surprised to see so few rival versions of the attractive
Debussy Sonata for flute, viola and harp and even more
surprised to find that I have so few of them in my collection.
The Palisades performers take the music a little faster than
their young rivals on EMI Debut 5731622 (Chamber Music with
flute by Mozart, Weber, Debussy and Ravel) but that, I think
is to the music’s advantage. Only Osian Ellis and the Melos
Ensemble are faster,especially in the finale. (The complete
performance is on Decca 421 1542, with Franck and Ravel, the
finale alone on the deleted The World of Debussy). The
Palisades tempi are close to those on a long-deleted Pickwick
CD of music by Ravel, Debussy, Roussel and Caplet (PWK1141),
a recording of Israeli origin which would merit a reissue from
Regis or Alto. In this work the lighter approach is much more
appropriate than in the Shostakovich.
I need have had no fears concerning the final work, Jane Brockman’s
Feast of Fives, fitting in with the other music. It’s
a pleasant piece, less ‘advanced’ in many respects than the
Shostakovich – eminently listenable and easily forgettable.
It would have made a better opening item, with the Debussy second
and the Shostakovich last.
I’ve already suggested that the Chandos recording is firmer
than the Aix in the opening movement of the Shostakovich and
the same remains true throughout – perhaps it’s an indication
of the comparative qualities of the performances that the Palisades
version sounds a little softer. In the Debussy and Brockman
the slightly lighter, softer sound is perfectly appropriate.
I’m not sure why, but the disc seemed to make more physical
noise as it played than is normally the case.
The notes in the booklet are not in the most eye-friendly of
fonts: they mainly concentrate on the makeup and history of
Chamber Music Palisades.
Catherine Evtuhov’s note on the Shostakovich tells us more about
the history of the composer’s on-off relationship with the authorities
than the music. You would need to know something about these
events to make full sense of the note and I’m not sure that
you could call the Fourth Symphony ‘recent’ when he composed
the Quintet. The links with the Sixth Symphony are noted, but
the more famous and near-contemporary Seventh, the ‘Leningrad’,
is not mentioned.
Kathy Henkel on the Debussy is again short but to the point,
and I would certainly have preferred more information about
the final work than the few lines which Jane Brockman herself
My review copy of AIX85052 came with the Audio Calibration Disc/HD
Music Sampler, AIX82002 and a free sampler in a simple gatefold
sleeve of Aix Records’ 24-bit/96kHz/7.1 recordings on Blu-ray,
AIX82003. The sampler contains 21 tracks of Folk, Country, R&B,
Acoustic Rock, Latin, Jazz and Classical, including the items
listed on AIX82002. The only two classical tracks are from AIX85052,
but the jazz tracks in particular may well be of interest to
lovers of classical music, as they were to me. To be frank,
I enjoyed seeing these more than I did watching the Shostakovich,
Debussy and Brockman. There seems to me more point in having
a visual record of folk and jazz than of the classical works.
You may well find the Calibration Disc useful. I believe that
it is the only such setup aid specifically intended for blu-ray
users, though the more basic set-up tests are also contained
on the disc which is the main subject of this review.
To return to our primary muttons: the performance of the Shostakovich
is a fraction too easy-going in places for my liking, partly
because the recording or the players – or both – shave off some
of the rougher edges. That slightly softer approach works well
in the Debussy and Brockman. If you find the present coupling
attractive, I see no reason why this disc should prove too disappointing.
If you find ‘busy’ camera shots distracting, however, you may
prefer to listen without watching. Surely, too, with the massive
amount of space available on blu-ray, we could have been given
rather more than 62 minutes of music for our bucks.
Calibration/Sampler disc details
System Calibration tests for channel identification, balance
and phase (all 7.1, 5.1 and 2.0 modes), frequency sweep, subwoofer
sweep and crossover test.
Mercy of the Wheels (folk music) John Gorka
Let me (folk music) Lisbeth Scott
Henry’s Farm (instrumental) Carl Verheyen
Pachelbel Acoustica (Instrumental) AIX All Stars
Primavera (Latin) Destani Wolf
Luxury Liner (Country) Albert Lee
Shostakovich Quintet - Prelude: Chamber Music Palisades