Issue 59, Fall 1974
Dmitri Shostakovich was born in 1906 in what is now Leningrad and began composing music at the age of eleven. Although chiefly known for his powerful symphonies, some of his finest ideas have been expressed in the form of chamber music. In these smaller works, many of the bold effects of his dramatic orchestral creations arc fore-shadowed. His Quintet for Piano and Strings, Opus 57, was first performed on November 23, i940, in Moscow. The present recording of this composition, by the Coeval Quartet with Jenö Turai at the keyboard, wiil surely take its place in that small, select pantheon reserved for historic performances.
The work is quintessential (dare one say quintet-sential?) Shostakovich. In it, one hears that characteristic blend of melting lyricism and pulsing rhythmic energy so typical of his music, the whole liberaiiy seasoned with delicious harmonies and pungent dissonances. The first movement begins with the solo piano, playing Lento m thefaded-lavender key of G Minor. Soon, that percussive mon-ster with the 88 teeth is joined by the strings: the gleaming gold of the first and second violins, the tarnished silver of the viola, the ruddy sunset-copper of the cello. This merging of strings and piano produces what many consider to be a ravishing sound, although a small minority does not share that view. The second movement is a fugue, and it, too, is in the key of G Minor (one wonders why?). Is Dmitri Dmitrievich fixated on that key? Possibly not, because the scherzo, which follows, is in B Major, the fourth movement is in D Minor, and the champagne sparkle of the Allegretto finale (reminiscent of Mumm’s Extra Dry; I prefer Piper Heidsick) returns again to G, but this time G Major — the composer almost seems to be snapping his fingers at us and saying “So there!” I won’t go so far as to say he is sticking out his tongue.