Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet Crowns a Challenging Season with Consummate Quality

United StatesUnited States Drozdov, Haydn, and Shostakovich: Ignat Solzhenitsyn (piano), Aizuri Quartet, Benjamin Franklin Hall, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 18.5.2016. (BJ)

Drozdov: Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 11

Haydn: String Quartet in B minor, Op. 33 No. 1, Hob. III:37

Shostakovich: Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57

Shostakovich’s masterly Piano Quintet brought the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society’s challenging season of varied repertoire and distinguished performers to a worthy conclusion. One of the composer’s most beguiling chamber works, it benefitted on this occasion from a performance that held the darker aspects of the slower movements and the almost Schubertian grace of the finale in ideal balance, while doing justice also to the aggressive devilry of the scherzo. Ignat Solzhenitsyn provided the kernel of the interpretation, by turns forceful without harshness and limpid without triviality. He was partnered with comparable artistry and skill by the Aizuri Quartet, who currently serve as string quartet in residence at the Curtis Institute.

The quartet derives is name from “aizuri-e,” the Japanese art of indigo wood-block printing, and there is an appropriate sense of something graphic and elegant about the sonic and stylistic give-and-take that imbues the playing of these four young women—violinists Miho Saegusa and Zoë Martin-Doike, violist Ayane Kozasa, and cellist Karen Ouzounian—with life and point. Their task, and Solzhenitsyn’s, was harder in the other Russian work that opened the program. Anatoly Drozdov (1883-1950) was clearly a technician of considerable skill, but the textures of his single-movement 1920 Piano Quintet are much thicker than Shostakovich’s unfailingly lucid sonorities, and I found it no easy matter to decipher just where we were at any particular moment in the piece. Perhaps the most important pointer to appreciating this music was the statement in the program note by the composer’s daughter, Marina Drozdova, that “in Drozdov’s mind, it was Scriabin who remained ever in the center of the musical universe.” I think it likely that admirers of the older composer’s music might well find this quintet much to their taste, and it was in any case clear that it could hardly have had more committed champions than Solzhenitsyn and the Aizuris.

Centrally placed on the program was Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 33 No. 1, one of only two the composer wrote in the key of B minor, and more commonly associated with romantics like Tchaikovsky and Borodin than with the Viennese classics. It may well be that this choice of tonality went some way toward liberating Haydn from the prevailing musical esthetic of his time, which he himself did much to turn into a thing of the past. Certainly the piece is rich in quirky invention, frequently indulging in unexpected pauses and vivid juxtapositions, and the Aizuri Quartet rendered these touches, as well as the work’s more traditional moments of warmth and lyricism, with admirable conviction.

Bernard Jacobson


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