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
, 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
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.