|…it's the Quintet that steals the limelight. thanks to a performance of rich warmth that grips your attention from the start and never lets it go. The Trio is also very well done… The Tall Poppies recordings are, as usual, first class.|
More intense than his symphonies, Shostakovich's music bears the full extent of the agony he experienced in Soviet Russia. Dene Olding and the other members of the Australia Ensemble realise much of this agony in their reading of these two demanding works.
The Age. August 1996
If I venture the opinion that the best thing about the Australia Ensemble's new Shostakovich disc is David Bollard's wholly idiomatic, steel-fingered piano playing, this should take nothing away from the quality of the string playing. One seldom hears recordings in which a string ensemble is wildly out-of-tune, but every so often a disc comes along where the playing is wildly in tune… Some of violinist Dene Olding's high playing takes the breath away with its sureness of intonation – sinewy and expressive, every note smack in the middle. The interpretation too, is fascinating. I compared the scherzo of the Piano Quintet with the recording by Victor Aller and the Hollywood String Quartet… What a contrast! The Australia Ensemble takes three-and-a-half minutes over a movement that the Hollywoods dispatch in a mere two and three-quarters, and it set me wondering about changing attitudes to Shostakovich. Perhaps the darker, more grimly ironic character of the Australia Ensemble's version is a result of what we now know…to have been the composer's real intent. The Hollywood Quartet, back in 1952, treated the movement more as a light-hearted romp; their reading has overtones of Prokofiev at his most cheery. It's brilliant playing, but the Australia Ensemble is altogether more searching in its approach, and more characterful in its interpretation.
There are so many recordings of these great pieces that I didn’t expect much from this one. I'd never heard of the players. But fame is unimportant in music. Let the TV-and-movies crowd fuss over celebrities; all that matters to us is the way the music is put across. And it is quite wonderfully put across here.
Both are rather slow and brooding performances. Yet they are not careful or cautious; instead they seem extroverted – they reach out to you, and they let their hair down. Instead of a finicky fussing over details, they pound it out and let it be what it is. And it comes across just beautifully. The pianist is not too percussive, the violinist never too shrill. But they seem fully in the spirit of the music, and many others who have recorded these do not.
I don't mean to imply that there are not other fine recordings; of course there are. There must be 40 or 45 recordings of the trio, and probably half of them are superb. It's wonderful, wonderful music, and it brings out the best in many musicians – especially, I would say, younger musicians. It didn’t catch on until the last 10 or 15 years; no one paid much attention to it. This is one of the slowest I know. The music unfolds naturally – but it is not genial music. It's rough, but still so beautiful. These people convey the full emotion of the music without tricks of "interpretation". They seem to just let it say what it says. You get full value musically – and in sound – and you will love what you hear.
The same applies to the less-recorded piano quintet. It is every bit as great a piece as the trio, This was the greatest composer of chamber music in the 20th century, and there is no other piano trio, no quintet, as great, as powerful, as moving – as beautiful – as these. This is simply wonderful music. I think this recording of the quintet is the greatest I have ever heard. So many telling details add up to a great performance, and the competition is not as overwhelming as in the trio. It's not as refined as some, but I think the slight roughness is appropriate and works really well. It makes a few other performances sound too refined, even effete.
American Record Guide.