Wednesday 11 May 2016

An exceptionally fine release from Somm of Piano Quintets by David Matthews and Dmitri Shostakovich performed by the Villiers String Quartet with pianist Martin Cousin

A new release from Somm Recordings  by the Villiers String Quartet with pianist Martin Cousin  brings together Piano Quintets by David Matthews and Dmitri Shostakovich.


Both the Villiers Quartet and pianist Martin Cousin have received much acclaim over recent years. The Villiers won the First Prize of the 2015 Radcliffe Chamber Music Competition, and is Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Oxford. Martin Cousin was the 1st Prize winner at the 2005 Ettore Pozzoli International Piano Competition (Seregno, Italy) and Gold Medal winner at the 2003 Royal Over-Seas League Music Competition (London).

David Matthews’ (b.1943) Piano Quintet, Op.92 was written in 2004 and premiered at the Reardon Smith Theatre in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff by the Emperor Quartet with the pianist Ian Fountain. In four movements the Praeludio: Moderato con moto opens with piano chords along with long drawn string chords before a lovely melody is quickly found by the strings based on the opening sequence. The music expands with a gentle piano line through the most exquisite passages, the strings and piano having a fine dialogue before rising in passion.  Martin Cousin brings some very fine piano passages, the strings later finding a darker and more reflective frame of mind. There are some very lovely string textures around the piano line before the quite lovely coda.

Tango: Urgente brings one of Matthews’ favourite rhythms, a tango that nevertheless is varied quite remarkably as it builds in strength and power. The strings weave some terrific lines around the piano bringing a fine intensity. There are some particularly fine piano phrases as well as string harmonics and slides as the tango rhythm pushes back into full view briefly before the sudden end.
The Ciaccona: Largo opens with a slow pulse from the piano and cello and a longer line from the viola before expanding as this heartfelt melody unfolds. Strings weave some fine individual parts as this music progresses with the piano always keeping the pulse. The quartet achieves some really lovely higher string sonorities, rising through some staccato and pizzicato passages of more force before a gentle conclusion.

The Canto: Allegretto giocoso brings a lovely forward flow, a sense of open spaces and joy. There is soon a slow gentle moment before the flow attempts to regain momentum only to slow for a lovely section with pizzicato strings.  The breezy momentum is eventually found again before building some terrific, exhilarating moments up until the sudden coda.

This is a terrific piano quintet that can easily stand comparison with any of the other great British works in this genre.

After the poor critical reception of his Sixth Symphony in 1939 Dmitri Shostakovich’s (1906-1975) wrote ‘…my heart is heavy. Age, nerves, all this tells.’ However, it didn’t prevent him working on his next major composition, his Piano Quintet, Op.57, first performed in Moscow in September 1940 by the Beethoven Quartet with the composer as pianist. This time there were uniformly enthusiastic responses. Martin Cousin provides a powerful piano opening to the first of the five movements, the Prelude: Lento to which the Villiers String Quartet adds their passionate voice. When these players develop the theme they bring a myriad of emotions, as well as colours and textures, rising through passages of outstanding drama and passion.

The Fugue. Adagio opens with a quizzical theme that is built through the strings as a fugue develops its melancholy theme. Soon the piano joins to take the theme, the strings rejoining to add their wistful sound. The music builds in drama and passion in the strings with the piano weaving around the strings. These players bring a great power and depth of expression with some beautifully produced harmonies and textures as the movement progresses to a wonderfully judged coda.

The Scherzo: Allegretto brings a scherzo so typical of this composer, full of energy and humour, yet often ambiguous in its underlying intension. These players really drive the music through passages of terrific energy and virtuosity, finding all of Shostakovich’s wit and bite.

A wistful melody for violin over pizzicato cello weaves ahead in the opening of the Intermezzo: Lento before being expanded as the other strings join. When the piano enters it brings a lovely gentle line as together they take this often tragic melody slowly forward, producing some really lovely sounds, beautifully controlled. The music rises in strength to an impassioned peak before falling back to a finely controlled, hushed coda and into the last movement.

The Finale: Allegretto quickly bubbles up into a faster moving theme with a fine flow, soon developing Shostakovich’s brittle nature. It builds in power as these fine players push ahead through passages of tremendous strength. The music slows to bring back a sense of passionate angst, finely brought out as these players find every nuance, the light and dark of this movement, before finding the strange little coda.

This is an exceptionally fine release. The recording made at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, England is first rate and there are useful booklet notes from David Matthews and Robert Matthew-Walker.

See also:

David Matthews


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