MusicWeb International, April 2016
Recording of the Month, by Ian Lace
David MATTHEWS (b. 1943)
Piano Quintet Op. 92 (2004) [20.23]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Quintet Op. 57 (1940) [31.40]
Martin Cousin (piano)
Villiers String Quartet (James Dickenson, Tamaki Higashi (violins), Carmen Flores (viola), Nick Stringfellow (cello))
rec. Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, 20-21 January 2015.
SOMM SOMMCD0157 [52.16]
One or two introductory remarks, if I may. I have chosen to include in this review (see Appendix), the movement markings of these two piano quintets. In the case of the Matthews work, they are there because of their interesting quirkiness and for the Shostakovich for the sake of its five movement structure. Secondly, a generalisation: readers will have noticed the short total duration of this CD, coming in at less than 60 minutes. A new trend? An increasing number of albums have come to me recently with short total timings reversing a trend towards 75-80 minute packed CDs. For the reader this might seem parsimonious but to a reviewer such short change might be welcome if the content is tedious. However, I promise that these 52 golden minutes represent money very well spent.
The David Matthews Piano Quintet was conceived as an engagement present for his wife thus its generally genial disposition. Matthews, himself, describes it thus: “The song and dance element is … predominant. The outer movements are essentially lyrical while the middle movements are dance movements (tango and chaconne) with the third movement a blend of song and dance”. The whole work is eminently accessible and charming; the writing adroit, artful and subtle. The opening movement is sweetly introspective, the Tango with strident piano and slinky string figures; Matthews claiming that “the tango seems particularly suited to the medium of piano and strings”. The Largo is stately and solemn and Matthews tells us that the Canto finale “… grew out of a walking holiday in Italy … [when] I heard the bells of a convent near the town of Montefalco”. The bells figure in the centre of this lively movement that ends in jubilation. The Villiers Quartet attack this lively sunny music with energy and joyful enthusiasm. Martin Cousin continues his impressive progress through the catalogues delivering another dazzling contribution.
Matthews observes that the Shostakovich Piano Quintet is “one of his finest works and one of the handful of great piano quintets written in the twentieth century …”, a view shared by Robert Matthew-Walker who contributed the notes for this section of the booklet. It has a direct emotional appeal. The opening movement indeed appeals to the senses: feminine daintiness in the waltz contrasts with forceful strong masculinity. The four-voiced Fugue begins with muted strings: first violin, second violin, cello and then viola with the piano entry delayed until nearly two minutes into this nine-minute second movement. There is a general mood of vulnerability and insecurity projected by the piano’s hammering. Even so, it all ends in peace – of a sort. The Scherzo is great fun and a delight. It feels like a take-off of a "danse macabre". The Intermezzo restores calm until the impassioned climax; the style is rather neo-classical. The Finale is sunny, optimistic and affirmative telling us that life is good despite fleeting shadows. Another compelling performance.