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Brahms & Shostakovich: Piano Quintets / Olga Kern; Dali Quartet

Brahms & Shostakovich: Piano Quintets / Olga Kern; Dali Quartet

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Two landmark works of the chamber repertoire, the piano quintets of Johannes Brahms and Dmitri Shostakovich, are rendered with power and beauty by acclaimed pianist Olga Kern and the path-breaking Dalí Quartet. The winner of many prestigious awards, including the Gold Medal of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the Moscow-born Ms. Kern has soloed with leading orchestras around the world. She is making her Delos debut with this album, following a run on the Harmonia Mundi label that included a GRAMMY® nomination for Rachmaninoff’s Corelli Variations. The Philadelphia-based Dalí Quartet is best known for spearheading an infusion of Latin American works into the chamber repertoire. Rapturously received in its live performances, the Dalí is Quartet in Residence at West Chester University and was the 2021 recipient of the Guarneri String Quartet Residency.


A full-blooded approach, one that celebrates the opulence of Brahms’s instrumental canvas, as well as the music’s youthful passion, is what Kern and the Dalí Quartet provide here in abundance. The opening measures of the Op. 34 are delivered with a hushed intensity and marvelous tonal unanimity. Kern and the ensemble plunge into the succeeding music with the utmost vigor and biting intensity, leading to a blazing ff account of the initial principal theme. That sequence is emblematic of the performance as a whole, one notable for its Romantic fire, precision of execution, and tonal amplitude. The pacing also strikes me as well-nigh ideal; an admirable balance of forward momentum and expressive application of rubato. And the ensemble proves itself every bit as convincing in the many restrained lyrical moments as in the extrovertly passionate ones. This is a Brahms op. 34 that satisfies on all levels (including observance of the first movement’s exposition repeat).

The challenge of the Shostakovich op. 57 (beyond its technical hurdles) is to present the quintet as a unified, coherent piece, rather than an assemblage of individual episodes. The op. 57 Quintet embodies a kaleidoscope of moods and colors, sometimes even within a single movement. A successful performance demands that the musicians convincingly portray these shifting emotions, all the while maintaining a continuity of narrative voice and transparency of ensemble. Once again, Kern and the Dalí Quartet rise to the occasion. The opening Prelude bears all the appropriate weight and sternness. The musicians execute Shostakovich’s extended second movement Fugue with breathtaking delicacy and seamless momentum. The Scherzo abounds with a lighthearted energy and humor. The final two movements (played without pause) are equally impressive, with the ensemble capturing both the haunting pathos of the Lento and the Finale’s rusticity and optimism. And while doing justice to all the twists and turns of the work, the musicians present it as a unified narrative. The recorded sound is excellent. Chaz Stuart’s liner notes offer valuable background and perspective. The Brahms op. 34 and Shostakovich op. 57 are both great works, but quite different in character. There is no guarantee that even the finest ensembles will perform them to equally impressive effect. But that is precisely what Olga Kern and the Dalí Quartet achieve on this Delos recording.

-- Fanfare

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 1
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Delos
    • UPC/Barcode: 013491358727
    • Item Number: DE 3587