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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975)
Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 134 (1969) (33.26)
Oleg Kagan (1946-1990), violin
Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997), piano
Recorded by Melodiya in Moscow, Russia, 17 May 1985
Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147 (1975) (34.29)
Yuri Bashmet (1953-), viola
Sviatoslav Richter, piano
Recorded by Melodiya in Moscow, Russia, 26 September 1982. DDD
remastered by Paul Arden-Taylor
REGIS RRC 1128 [67.59]

Comparison recordings:
David Oistrakh,violin; Sviatoslav Richter, piano; Op.134 EMI/Angel LP SR-40189
Josef Suk, viola; Jan Panenka, piano; Op.147 Supraphon LP 1111 2000 G
Feodor Druzhinin, viola; Mikhail Muntyan, piano; Op 147 ---

‘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 audience noise.

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.

Paul Shoemaker

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