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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) The Very Best of Shostakovich
CD 1
Festive Overture in A, Op. 96 [5:59], String Quartet No. 8 in C minor III Allegretto [4:10]; Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67 III Largo [5:35]; Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat, Op. 107 I Allegretto [6:15]; 24 Preludes and Fugues - piano, Op. 87 Prelude and Fugue No1 in C major [6:50]; Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47 II Allegretto [5:08]; Cello Sonata Op. 40 IV Allegro [4:30]; The Golden Age: Ballet Suite, Op. 22a Polka [1:52]; String Quartet No. 3 in F, Op. 73 IV Adagio [5:27]; Symphony No. 9 in E flat, Op. 54 III Presto [2:48]; 24 Preludes - piano, Op. 34 Prelude No. 10 in C sharp minor [2:06]; Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor Op. 77 IV Burlesque [5:02]; The Gadfly Suite Op. 97a Romance [5:52]; Symphony No. 10 in E minor Op. 93 II Allegro [4:18]
CD 2
Jazz Suite No. 2 VI Waltz 2 [3:15]; Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor Op. 35 II Lento [8:31]; Symphony No7 in C Op. 60 Leningrad II Moderato [11:20]; 3 Fantastic Dances Op. 5 Polka [1:07]; Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor Op. 113 Babi Yar II Humour [7:36]; Piano Quintet Op. 57 II Scherzo [3:25]; Symphony No. 1 in F minor OP. 10 II Allegro [4:54]; Piano Concerto No. 2 Op. 102 II Andante [6:38]; Symphony No. 15 Op. 141 IV Allegretto [4:03]; String Quartet No. 7 in F sharp minor Op. 108 III Allegro [5:35]; Tahiti Trot Op. 16 Tea for Two [4:10]
Drawn from various artists and recordings in the Naxos catalogue.
NAXOS 8.552129-30 [66:43 + 61:06]

Naxos have done well in choosing a representative selection of works from a prolific composer. However this inevitably is at the expense of being able to trace the development of any one work; losing oneself in a large and momentous work is part of the pleasure of listening to Shostakovich. The listener cannot fully appreciate this composer’s work through a series of short extracts, no matter how carefully selected.
The first disc opens excellently with the Festive Overture, where both playing and recording are good. There is then a rather abrupt change into a movement from the Eighth String Quartet. However the shift has some analogy to the composer’s own at times sudden and dramatic changes.
After this one longs for something slower, to change the pace and provide a contrast for the ear. Instead there is a rather frenetic extract from the First Cello Concerto. Contrast is then finally provided in a very good performance of a piano prelude and fugue. This is then followed by the Allegretto from the well-known Fifth Symphony, one of the composer’s most frequently performed works, which is familiar but good.
Next is the Cello Sonata; a lively refreshing account, which although it doesn’t compare with the Rostropovich recordings, may well whet the appetite for the composer’s powerful oeuvre for this instrument. There is then a somewhat clumsy polka and a magnificent section of the Third Quartet, a lovely work that deserves to be more widely known and performed.
The eleventh track is also very good, an extract from the Ninth Symphony, again an interesting work which is not played all that often. There is then a return to the preludes and fugues, giving the listener a further selection of these.
Track 14, the Romance from The Gadfly, is excellent, one of the high points of the disc. With the last track, from the Tenth Symphony, the disc ‘goes out with a bang’. The programming in this case is effective but is rather let down by the recording quality, which is not as good as some of the others.
The second CD opens well with a waltz from the Second Jazz Suite, showing this side of Shostakovich’s considerable output. The performance starts well, but loses tempo, becoming rather too slow.
The next item is a rather longer extract than the majority of the tracks on this compilation, this time from the First Piano Concerto. Showing the composer’s writing in this form, which was not inconsiderable, is commendable, but this track is marred by its inferior recording quality.
The third track also has technical difficulties, with rather variable recording quality. It is an interesting selection, but it sounds out of context. The performance builds gradually but its development is cut short in the process of extraction.
The pleasant polka which follows refreshes the ear between symphonic extracts. One is then immersed into the powerful Babi Yar symphony, an important work of this composer. Although there are other recordings I prefer to this one, the extract does succeed in giving an accurate flavour of the work; a considerable achievement.
Overall, the first disc is more successful than the second, the latter being marred by technical difficulties and a selection which, whilst broader, also seems more haphazard. If the disc is intended to showcase or act as a sampler for Naxos’ recordings, the message would be that some of them are much better than others.
As an introduction to the composer’s work, it gives a wide-ranging and typical selection, which is in itself some achievement. Those new to his music with an interest of any seriousness would do far better to enquire from their musical friends, or use this site’s considerable resources to select good value budget performances of, say, half a dozen important works in varying genres.

Julie Williams


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