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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975)
Ballet Suites Nos. 1 (1950) [12.45]; 2 (1951) [19.53]; 3 (1952) [15.18]; 4 (1953) [12.12] (all arr. Lev Atovmyan)
Dmitri Yablonsky, cello solo; Oleg Tokathev, trumpet solo
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitri Yablonsky
Recorded in KULTURA Studio 5, Moscow, Russia, 1 June 2003
Notes in English and Deutsch. Detailed track list.
NAXOS 8.557208 [60.07]

Comparison Recordings:
Shostakovich: Ballet Suites #’s 1 - 3, Neemi Järvi, SNO Chandos CHAN 8730
Shostakovich: Jazz Suites #’s 1 & 2; the Bolt. Yablonsky, RSSO Naxos DVD-Audio 5.110006. Also available on CD: Naxos 8.555949.

Things have changed a lot. It used to be that these Suites were esoteric music, only available on a long out-of-print CBS monophonic LP; now they are virtually war-horses, heard and recorded frequently. For years the Chandos label has been the audiophile recorded sound standard, far head of the competition, this Järvi disk in particular. Naxos productions used to be cheap affairs with indifferent recording and inexpensive artwork reproduced in duo-tone on the booklet covers, with no repetition of the track list from the tray liner inside the booklet. And Russian conductors in general were given to noisy overstatement, while Russian orchestras often had a harsh blary clumsy sound.

Well, none of that is true any more. Chandos is still an audiophile leader with great recorded sound, but they’re not so far out ahead, and Naxos — yes, Naxos — with their line of DVD-Audios has moved forward even into the ranks of the front leaders! In keeping with their new sound quality standards, the full colour artwork on the cover has greatly improved in artistic quality and reproduction. This master tape will surely make a great DVD-Audio, but if you don’t have the player for such a disk, be assured that this disk contains first-rate audiophile CD sound. The all-important high and low percussion accents are unforced and clean, all instruments are clearly delineated and accurately placed in the sound perspective, and playing the disk through your surround sound decoder only enhances this perspective. The summary track list on the tray liner is repeated and expanded in the booklet.

As to the musical performance, if you told a friend this disk was Adrian Boult conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, he would hear nothing to suggest otherwise, except the playfulness of the musical gestures and the schmaltzy touches here and there might sometimes be a little too un-British. The smooth disciplined polish of the orchestral sound, the elegant strings, the lightly danceable forward motion, are the equal of the best Western orchestras.

These suites were all arranged from music by Shostakovich for stage works — mostly "The Limpid Stream" and "The Human Comedy." By 1949 some of these works had been banned from performance because of content so Lev Atovmyan arranged these suites of otherwise unavailable music for use by radio stations.

In the past I have praised Yablonsky even though other critics fault him for being cool, uninvolved in the music. Perhaps on this disk I must agree with them. I think the Järvi recording is still the best one, even though with Yablonsky you get an extra suite. Järvi pumps up the satire just a little by exaggerating some of the gestures, his performance is memorable. Järvi’s sound is still excellent, the recorded perspective is closer and the dynamic range is greater. Only in direct comparison with Yablonsky does it sound just the tiniest bit congested, a difference which would be greater on the DVD-Audio issue, of course.

If you have the Järvi recording you might prefer to supplement it with Yablonsky’s DVD-audio of the Jazz Suite #1 which supplied two of these movements, and the music from The Bolt which supplied another.

Paul Shoemaker

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