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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-75)
Chamber Symphony, Op. 110 bis (String Quartet No. 8, arr Barshai)
Symphony for Strings, Op. 118 bis (String Quartet No. 10, arr. Barshai)
Requiem for Strings, Op. 144 bis (String Quartet No. 15, arr. Rachlevsky).
Chamber Orchestra Kremlin/Misha Rachlevsky.
Rec Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, October-November 1991. DDD
CLAVES CD50-9115 [79’58]
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The transcription of some of Shostakovich’s most intimate statements from the medium of string quartet to full string ensemble is, on the surface, a fairly questionable exercise. True, two of these three arrangements are from the pen of an established Shostakovich specialist, the conductor Rudolf Barshai, which guarantees a certain level of professionalism. But it is the blunting effect on Shostakovich’s often painful statements that must be considered.

The Eighth Quartet sees Shostakovich using the technique of quotation extensively. This re-contextualisation of material can have a startling effect, especially in the more exposed world of one-player-to-a-part. Massed strings are not really evocative of Shostakovich’s chamber world, despite Barshai’s skilled and tasteful use of solo instruments. In the second movement, for example, the close recording helps the visceral, attacking effect: but perhaps more excitement would have been forthcoming (and possible) if a quartet had been playing. Recording-wise, there is a fair amount of reverb (try the opening of the Allegretto, QUOTE 1), which can muddy detail. The intense mystery present in this quartet is unfortunately not fully conveyed in the present instance.

The Symphony for Strings, Op. 118 bis is another Barshai transcription. The Tenth Quartet (from which it stems) is dedicated to the composer Moisei Vainberg. The ‘introductory’ first movement (Andante) presents a sense of repose, but nevertheless some uneasy undercurrents are present (QUOTE 2). The curiously contradictory tempo marking for the second movement, ‘Allegretto furioso’ is certainly furious – it is good that some rawer sonorities are here in evidence. The Adagio, however, sees a return to indulgent textures and veers towards the overtly Romantic.

One of the most moving, unremittingly desolate pieces ever written, the Fifteenth Quartet is always a supreme challenge. All six of its Adagios are in the same key. There is a rarefied, almost stifling atmosphere throughout the piece. Again, the austerity of one player to a part seems more in keeping with the piece’s ethos. However, Rachlevsky gives an entirely convincing account of his own transcription: listen to the desolate crescendo of the opening of the second movement, ‘Serenade’ (QUOTE 3). The Funereal March is well portrayed: there is no room for escape in the initial chords. Unfortunately, a careless edit mars the end of the last movement.

Worth hearing for curiosity’s sake, if not as a replacement for the real thing.

Colin Clarke

 


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Chamber Symphony, Op.110:
Largo

Allegro molto

Allegretto

Largo

Largo

Symphony for Strings, Op.118 bis:
Andante

Allegretto furioso

Adagio

Allegretto

Requiem for Strings, Op.144 bis:
Elegy. Adagio

Serenade. Adagio

Intermezzo. Adagio

Nocturne. Adagio

Funeral march. Adagio molto

Epilogue. Adagio



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