> SHOSTAKOVICH Chamber Symphony SCHNITTKE Piano Concerto DE3259 [CC]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-75)
Chamber Symphony Op. 110a.
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-98)
Concerto for Piano and Strings.
Moscow Chamber Orchestra/Constantine Orbelian (piano).
Recorded at Skywalker Sound, Marin County, California, 5 & 7 March 2000
DELOS DE 3259 [47:37]



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I enjoyed Orbelian’s disc of Rachmaninov’ Aleko, also on Delos, when I reviewed it last year (DE3269). Staying with Russian repertoire, here is a coupling that works well, as long as one ignores the playing time. Just over three-quarters of an hour is unacceptable these days, surely, especially at full price.

Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a is, in fact, a transcription of his Eighth String Quartet by the conductor Rudolf Barshai (who did the same to the Third and Tenth also, although this is by far the most popular of the arrangements). The Eighth Quartet, full of self-quotations (most prominently, perhaps, from the First Cello Concerto, but the First Piano Concerto, the Second Piano Trio and Lady Macbeth all turn up, too. Very recently I have expressed my doubts as to the BBC Legends issue of a live performance by the Borodin String Quartet (BBCL4063-2).

Orbelian’s account brings problems with it, too. There is an inevitable cushioning effect to Shostakovich’s bare and sometimes savage textures by transferring it to a massed group. The Moscow Chamber Orchestra exacerbates this by, in general, underplaying accents (not spiky enough) or sometimes by crucial lapses in ensemble. Long-breathed first violin melodies lose their sense of desolation when played en masse. The most successful movement is the fourth (the second of a total of three Largos in the work). The use of contrast is effective, and Orbelian manages to keep the drama and emotion over the silences, but it is not enough to rescue an over-inflated and sometimes scrappy performance.

The performance of the Concerto for Piano and Strings by Alfred Schnittke (1979) is more successful. The two pieces on the disc work well as a coupling, and seated at the piano seems to bring out the best in both Orbelian and his orchestra. Orbelian’s sensitive playing suits the sometimes Chopinesque writing of the first movement well. The piece is formally interesting: a set of variations on a theme that only appears at the very end, combined with elements of Sonata Form. The ‘Tempo di valse’ third movement works particularly well: it is a black, relentless waltz with a cumulative energy all of its own. The performance projects this dark energy well; the glassy stillness of the close of the work is also effective.

There is not enough here, musically, to deserve a recommendation, however. The recording is acceptable, if too close for comfort.

Colin Clarke

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