‘DDD’ on a recording does not mean perfection.
A DDD recording can suffer from microphone overload, transmission
line noise, studio background noise, transient clipping, dynamic
and frequency range limiting and compression, and harmonic and
intermodulation distortion from the microphones, mixers, equalisers,
and preamplifiers — all added before the music gets to the digital
master tape recorder. I am happy to report that only a very few
elements out of this delightful smorgasbord are present in these
very good sounding recordings. String sound is at times harsh,
or I should say unintentionally harsh since Shostakovich makes
full use of the dramatic rawness the instruments are capable of.
Piano sound is full and rich. Perspective is very close, resulting
in almost no obtrusive audience noise in these live recordings,
very good ‘presence’ and realistic instrument sound. The recordings
sound as though some digital restoration has been accomplished,
and the album credit given for ‘remastering’ reinforces this impression
of very quiet background, clean sound at peak levels, and reduced
This is of course a reissue, as these recordings
have been in circulation since their original release; therefore
there are reviews in print of both performances.
These two works are very much alike; note the
very close timings, showing that the composer conceived the musical
drama very similarly. The Viola Sonata, Shostakovich’s actual
final composition, is supposed to be in part a true twelve tone
work, but in fact both works grow from nearly identical harmonic
soil. In keeping with Shostakovich’s last symphony, his last work
contains ingeniously worked-over direct quotations from German
music, most obviously the Beethoven ‘Moonlight’ Sonata. But attentive
listening will reveal passing references to other works as well,
for example the Stravinsky violin concerto.
These two works are very moody and depressing,
the kind of music people who don’t like classical music love to
point to. Why should anyone want to be depressed for an hour?
The Violin Sonata was conceived for David Oistrakh,
the composer’s long time good friend, and his performance referred
to above was probably the premier performance. Oistrakh also played
the viola, and it is difficult to consider that Shostakovich was
not also thinking of the Viola Sonata for Oistrakh, but Oistrakh
died a year before it was composed. Shostakovich died immediately
after the work was completed and before the premier performance
which was at his memorial service. That performance, by the dedicatees,
Feodor Druzhinin, viola, accompanied by Mikhail Muntyan, piano,
was recorded and has been in circulation, but I was not able to
obtain a copy to compare. Druzhinin was Bashmet’s teacher, and
at least one critic has found the two performances all but identical
in character. Modern works, where authoritative recordings are
available which were made in the composer’s presence or by performers
intimate with the composer’s style and methods, tend to be very
much the same, and I admit I can’t hear any noticeable difference
in interpretation between these various versions. Make your choice
based on sound, cost, and availability, and you can’t go wrong.
And prepare to be depressed for about an hour.