SCHUMANN; SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Quintets
There is much to enjoy on this DVD. Individually the young Polish musicians are all accomplished and conscientious, and their ensemble has evidently been well coached. In many ways the results are more polished than they might be from a pick-up group of bigger-name artists, while the filming is unfussy in its camera angles and the players themselves have no distracting visual quirks.
Even so, I have to ask why we need the DVD at all. Certainly it is a fine promotional tool – the performances are as good as, though not better than, many in the catalogue. But the visuals only serve to highlight that the playing is not yet fully developed in terms of characterisation. As they are here arranged on the platform, there is little chance of eye contact between the pianist and the string quartet, and in any case all five are playing into their music (or, in the case of the pianist, into the keyboard) rather than for each other, which more or less rules out musical drama or spontaneity.
Shapely though the first movement of the Schumann undoubtedly is, it suffers, as it so often does, from so much rhapsodising in the lyrical second theme that the first constantly has to play catch-up. For the slow movement the multi-tempo approach is again quite a widely favoured option, but it is without sanction from the score and soon becomes predictable. The Scherzo is wonderfully dexterous, but at the same time less joyful than it can be, while the finale is once again tastefully textured but lacking élan.
The Shostakovich opens with a rather mannered piano solo, which ends on a split note that should have been retaken (there are couple more such in the Scherzo). The whole first movement lacks drive, and the rest, though less reproachable in terms of tempo and often quite sensitive, could be more subtly characterised. The break between the fourth and fifth movements is a major miscalculation.
Recording quality is excellent and the accompanying essay respectable (though it gets off to a shaky start by claiming that ‘the piano quintet appeared in the European music at the end of the 17th century’).