An excellent coupling of two 35-minute works by Shostakovich, the Takács Quartet traversing intensely the gritty and earthy first-movement ‘Overture’ of String Quartet No.2 (1944), the teamwork tangible in this closely observed recording that places the players stereophonically wide in an acoustic slightly larger than ideal, but this is powerful music that the Takács members give with force and passion; there is nothing hemmed-in about the sound and one feels naturally part of the action, the ‘fifth’ member. In the expansive second-movement ‘Recitative and Romance’, emotional import is again to the fore and a shadowy ‘Waltz’ follows, one not for dancing and in any case it is a volatile creation. The ‘Theme and Variations’ finale opens with lyrical largesse and then pursues a varied course of increasing speed and demonstration, but, ultimately, is not able to break free (to my mind) for all the rapture of the majestic final bars.
The slightly earlier Piano Quintet (1940), also written for the Beethoven Quartet, the first performance given with the composer as the pianist, has five movements. This Hyperion version opens with a commanding statement from Marc-André Hamelin, the timbre of the piano not the fullest though, but well-balanced when the musicians are playing together. It’s an expansive account, a slow-burn approach to the second-movement ‘Fugue’ bringing out ‘late’-Beethoven relationships. The following ‘Scherzo’ is attacked with glee, and the final two (linked) movements are peered into with significance to complete a thoughtful and weighty interpretation. All in all, a very recommendable release of significant scores and penetrating musicianship.