As a result of their success with his First String Quartet in 1938, Shostakovich’s friends in the Beethoven Quartet asked him to write a piano quintet that they and he could perform together. The result was one of the his most unusual pieces, an intense half-hour structure in five movements, that has become a chamber-music classic of the 20th century.
This is the younger Shostakovich at his most serious and purely musical. There are no distracting jokes and little melodrama. Instead a spacious and haunting neo-classical story unfolds that looks back to the famous chamber-music masterpieces of the romantic age and often glances towards Bach, while at the same time speaking a language of its own, of unusual purity and plainness. Every note is clean and poised, the music moving seamlessly between the apparently light-hearted and the intensely moving. The finale is strikingly simple and powerfully memorable. As so often with this composer, we can hear dark shadows lurking and gathering in the background, which is hardly surprising given that this quintet was composed as Western Europe was already at war and the USSR soon to be invaded by Nazi Germany. This quintet is the song before the storm.
Note by Gerard McBurney