A quintet of big-name artists is let down by a lack of balance

New York Concert

The Strad Issue: July 2019

Description: A quintet of big-name artists is let down by a lack of balance

Musicians: Emerson Quartet, Evgeny Kissin (piano)

Works: MOZART Piano Quartet in G minor K478 FAURÉ Piano Quartet in C minor op.15 DVOŘÁK Piano Quintet no.2 in A major op.81 SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Quintet in G minor op.57 (Scherzo)

Catalogue Number: DG 483 6574 (2 CDs)

It seems an odd tactic to line up the Emerson Quartet for a live recording (albeit with a pianist of Evgeny Kissin’s stature), only to relegate it to the background in the manner of after-dinner entertainment. That may be an exaggeration, but on this release, while the piano sounds resplendent in itself, the quartet is robbed of its immediacy, power and nuance. 

The bold, unanimous string theme at the opening of Fauré’s Piano Quartet in C minor sounds somewhat tame, and it’s difficult to gauge whether the lack of dynamic range is down to the playing or the audio-capture of it. Likewise, the Scherzo would make for a more engaging experience if we could hear more body in the pizzicato chords, though here Kissin’s light, characterful touch gives the air of a Slavonic-style dance. 

Which forms a neat link with the ‘Dumka’ slow movement of Dvořák’s Piano Quintet no.2 in A major and the furiant of its Scherzo. Here the music making is refreshingly unbuttoned, in contrast with Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor, where – for all the finesse of the players, as well as a nod to period style – the effect is high-class vanilla. The Shostakovich encore, too, appears to lack bite. On the surface this release is self-recommending but in reality I’d suggest proceeding with caution.