As well as producing
some of the most notable symphonies
and string quartets of the 20th
century, Shostakovich also excelled
in occasional pieces and lighter music.
This recently recorded compilation from
Brilliant Classics combines two of the
composer’s most colourful orchestral
works with music written for jazz band
and theatre orchestra. The results are
as entertaining as we might expect.
It was during the 1930s
that the two suites of jazz-related
music were compiled. The Second Suite
was not called as such by Shostakovich;
rather he described it as Suite No.
1 for Variety Orchestra. At more than
twenty minutes duration it is actually
the most extended piece on the programme
here, but its varied material makes
for appealing listening. Not all the
music dates from 1938, when the suite
was put together, since it was compiled
from sketches and other sources going
back across a decade or more. If the
background seems confusing, the results
are compelling and entertaining.
In these jazz-related
items, Theodor Kuchar draws idiomatic
performances from the members of the
Ukraine orchestra, and the pleasing
results owe a lot also to the excellent
recorded sound. Likewise the short but
appealing Novorossisk Chimes,
a patriotic piece written in 1960 using
the melody ‘Song of Eternal Glory’,
is a satisfying experience for the listener
hearing it for the first time.
It is in the performances
of the two symphony-orchestra items,
the Festive Overture and the
Overture on Russian and Kirghiz Themes,
that some doubts appear. The string
sound – violins in particular – lacks
somewhat in body and lustre, and it
is not clear whether this relates to
the recording or to the playing. The
performances are satisfactory in every
other respect, nor is the string sound
inadequate. However, the results are
less successful than the other items
on the programme.
There are full programme
notes, placing the individual pieces
in the context of the composer’s life
and career, reflecting that the whole
production is of a high standard.