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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-75)
Hypothetically Murdered, Orchestral Suite, Op. 31a (1931) (reconstructed and orch. McBurney) [39’22].
Four Romances on Poems by Pushkin, Op. 46a (1937) (original version, orch. compl. McBurney) [11’58].
Five Fragments, Op. 42 (1935) [10’39].
Suite No. 1 for Jazz Band (1924) [9’14].
aDmitri Kharitonov (bass)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Mark Elder.
Rec. Symphony Hall, Birmingham, on December 16th-18th, 1992.
First issued on Cala CACD1020 DDD


Important to state, perhaps that this is a reissue, as Signum nowhere mentions its previous incarnation. Click on Crotchet and you will find you can buy the Cala at mid-price, and the reissue for full price.

I cannot fathom the machinations of record company pricery at the best of times, so I’ll just leave that alone and talk about the well-chosen programme this product presents. Works span the period 1924 (Jazz Suite)-1937 (Pushkin Romances). A time of change in both personal circumstances and developing maturity as an artist, so it is no surprise to learn that there is a vast emotional range within the 71 minutes of this CD.

Here is the World Première recording of the Suite from Hypothetically Murdered. Gerald McBurney, an incredibly knowledgeable Shostakovich expert, has reassembled this work from a folder of piano sketches, orchestrating using contemporaneous theatre works as guide-lines. Parts of the score reappear elsewhere (in Lady Macbeth). What emerges, aurally is in effect a succession of fascinating snippets, each revealing original possibilities never to be realised. This is particularly true of the Soviet-sleaze of the first number, ‘Transition to the Field Hospital’. The ‘Gallop’ that follows is an example of Shostakovich’s frenetic mad-cap style, and drips with slapstick; hugely entertaining. The ‘Transition to the Field’ that follows contrasts in its deliberately lumbering gait.

Whether this score repays repeated listening is up for debate, but it contains a veritable encyclopaedia of Shostakovich stock-vocab in a virtuoso setting. Interesting to see Petrushka (the name, not the ballet) making an appearance in Act 2 (track 6), Here he is jolly, but the semantic weight of his name meant that this reviewer found himself expecting Stravinskian bitonality to impinge upon proceedings; it doesn’t, by the way. What we do get is an outrageous, almost tipsy, clarinet part that slithers all over the place. In fact, there is a huge amount of wit in this glittering score. The CBSO is more than happy to show off its virtuoso credentials in the ‘Storm’ (pictorial in its evocation); Shostakovich is more than happy, in turn, to show off his aural imagination in the crazy, effects-laden, gestural ‘Paradise 1: the Flight of the Cherubim’ that opens the Act 3 music. A cheeky allusion to ‘O du lieber Augustin’ is Shostakovich at his most cheeky in a movement arrestingly entitled, ‘The Archangel Gabriel’s number’. Eye-opening fun. The booklet includes a reproduction of the striking 1930s poster for Hypothetically Murdered – on the evidence of that alone, it would appear that Shostakovich’s music fitted like a glove.

The Pushkin Romances represent another, darker, side of this composer. They follow a fraught period in Shostakovich’s life and the texts chosen reflect a real isolation. Pre-echoes of the Fifth Symphony exist in the first song, ‘Rebirth’ (listen to the string figures).

Here we have Shostakovich’s orchestration of the first three songs (String orchestra, clarinet and harp). McBurney used a bass clarinet and orchestrated the fourth song in the same style as the first three, and this is what is presented here. The aching solo violin line of ‘Jealousy’ is particularly notable, as is the resolute, ominous tread of the final song representing the protagonist tramping the noisy streets.

More overtly modernist is the Five Fragments, Op. 42 (allegedly written in one day – July 9th, 1935!). This piece contains much intimacy, almost as if Shostakovich is saying that this is what he really writes when he gets the chance. This is a disturbing piece, make no mistake, and probably for that I find it the most memorable work on the disc. The Andante (second movement) is Stravinskian in a spiky sort of way, while the desolate high violin lines of the Largo (very well played here) serve to underline the solitary nature of this score. The wit of the final, fifth movement seems a long way off when you encounter this Largo which seems to stretch time; it is only 3’43 long, but feels much more.

The famous Jazz Suite is given with aplomb. McBurney perceptively writes of an ‘undertow of depth and darkness’, and how right he is. Special mention should go to the trumpeter.

The finale (‘Foxtrot (Blues)’) is positively outrageous, and doesn’t the CBSO just know it!. A lovely way to end.

Colin Clarke

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