Dmitri Shostakovich composed some of the best string quartets of the 20th century, of that there is no doubt, but the nomination for best Piano Quintet of the 20th century must go to
The title of this cd is "On The Threshold of Hope" because all the works collected here were written during the second world war when, in the USSR, repression was temporarily lifted
in order to mobilise the resources of the entire country. Once again Jews hoped for better days. But, after the war, Weinberg experienced the Soviet's gruesome anti-Semitism first hand.
The quintet, composed in 1944, was first performed in March of 1945 by the great Emil Gilels on piano and the Bolshoi Theatre Quartet. The work is very traditional in structure and
tonality. The first movement opens with a haunting motif introduced by the piano, and provides most of the thematic material for the entire quintet, which is written on an almost symphonic
scale. The inner, faster movements provide moments of grotesque cabaret/folksong music mixed with darker passages. The extended Largo which follows, opens with a bold statement on the strings,
then the piano joins in and some magical exchanges occur between the instruments, roles being easily swapped from one moment to the next. The final movement, Allegro agitato, opens with a
nervous, tense, war-machine like theme that drives the music forward until it turns into a manic sounding jewish folk dance (as if they are being forced to enjoy themselves), but then
returns with some truly magnificent writing by Weinberg where the opening motif from the first movement is re-introduced and worked into the dense fabric of the music, until the
war-machine motif gradually slows down and fades away into darkness - all hope is lost.
This is truly awesome chamber music. If you enjoy Shostakovich or Prokofiev, you owe it to yourself to hear this great composer.
The ARC Ensemble are Artists of the Royal Conservatory of music in Toronto. They play this music with unrivalled commitment and integrity, as if re-living the music through Weinberg's mind.
In the spring of 2008 this cd was nominated for both Juno and Grammy awards.
Weinberg went on to enjoy great success: he was considered one of the country's foremost composers, and the finest musicians performed his music. Today, he is steadily claiming a
position of universal significance. - Per Skans