SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Quintet. String Quartet No 3 (Belcea Quartet)
Shostakovich is something of a departure on disc for both the Belcea Quartet and Piotr Anderszewski but a very welcome one. These two works have long been in their concert repertoire and it shows. They look at the Quintet with fresh eyes and that is evident from the outset. The pianist’s opening soliloquy has power and a directness of emotion, which is matched by the Belcea, but it’s at the point where the music moves into 3/8 (a minute and a half in) that this performance becomes a real ear-opener. How much wistfulness they find here, and Corina Belcea’s tone as she reaches heavenwards is utterly heart-rending. The Takács with Hamelin tend to be more straightforwardly warm at this point.
The fugal second movement has a particularly engaging fragility, Corina Belcea laying the subject bare with the merest touch of vibrato, which is then matched unerringly by fellow violinist Axel Schacher. There’s grim playfulness in abundance in the Scherzo, Anderszewski bright-toned but never aggressive-sounding, while the shocking torpor of the fourth movement is even more strikingly conveyed than in Argerich’s wonderfully responsive performance with Capuçon et al. The Intermezzo was a particular highlight of the Hamelin/Takács performance but this new performance is on a similar level. Anderszewski and the Belcea perfectly capture the finale’s unsettling mix of quasi-innocence and dark intensity, though if you want something altogether more sharp-tongued, more threatening, Argerich and friends are pretty much unbeatable.
The Third String Quartet is every bit as successful, setting off with an almost Prokofievian sense of the dance. The absolute certainty of ensemble is one of the joys of the Belcea, but just as important is their fearlessness, and their reactivity, capturing the music’s emotional shifts unerringly. How deliciously insouciant, for example, are the last two notes of the first movement, a mood immediately shattered by the stridently insistent motif with which the viola launches the second movement; or the contrast between chordal writing and poignant recitative of the fourth. The Belcea are a shade slower than the Emerson, not only here but throughout the quartet, and it makes for a more interesting reading; in the grimly violent third movement, for instance, the Belcea find more grit in the mix, while the Americans sound just a tad relentless. Shostakovich’s finale maintains the intensity of the previous movements and the Belcea respond in kind. A tremendous addition to the Shostakovich discography.