The Apollon Musagète’s textures switched easily and impressively between the bumptious rhythmic ostinati and delicate, atmospheric harmonic effects answered by Ohlsson’s deft upper-register playing.Review: La Jolla Music Society winter season opener offers fresh takes on established traditions10 Oct 2022
“A critical debate has existed for years regarding Shostakovich’s G minor piano quintet. Shostakovich’s work remains so entangled with its reception by the Soviet regime that the alternating approval and opprobrium his music received in his own country have become an unfortunate (and inappropriate) barometer of musical substance and authenticity in ours.
The quintet’s long popularity with audiences, its immediate praise from the Stalinist machine (and withering assessment by Prokofiev) have painted this piece as an example of sycophantic aesthetic propaganda. The folly of this idea was made evident by the version presented by the Apollon Musagète and La Jolla Music Society favorite Garrick Ohlsson, with a treatment that emphasized the quintet’s powerful brutality and midcentury constructivism.
The first movement — a prelude and fugue — features heavy, percussive block piano chords counterposed with turbulent, churning string masses. Shostakovich knew Bach’s music well (and composed a set of preludes and fugues that pay tribute to “The Well-tempered Clavier”), though his counterpoint is intentionally thorny, with non-functional motivic loops played with an appropriately heavy hand by pianist Ohlsson.
The second movement is driving and mechanical. The Apollon Musagète’s textures switched easily and impressively between the bumptious rhythmic ostinati and delicate, atmospheric harmonic effects answered by Ohlsson’s deft upper-register playing.
Throughout, the players combined a remarkable unity — of grim, apocalyptic vision and dysfunction in their reading, and precision of touch and suppleness in their ensemble playing. They managed, ultimately, to get at the shocking emotional inversion of stability and danger that lives in this work, in the final moments of placidity and peace with which the quintet ends, now heard as a terrible indictment of Shostakovich’s 1940 world.”