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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975)
Chamber Symphony op. 110a (from String Quartet No. 8 arr. by Rudolf Barshai) (1960) [25:12]
Gyorgy SVIRIDOV (1915 - 1998)

Chamber Symphony op. 14 (1940) [21:39]
Moishei VAINBERG (1919 - 1996)

Chamber Symphony No. 1 for String orchestra op. 145 (1986) [26:43]
Moscow Soloists/Yuri Bashmet
rec. Schloss Neuhardenberg, Berlin, Germany, 22– 25 June 2005. DDD
ONYX 4007 [73:31]

The catalogue of arrangements of Shostakovich’s string quartets for chamber orchestra is becoming quite well populated. The principal arranger, Rudolf Barshai, has recorded as many as five of them on DG with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, not counting his earlier recordings on EMI. Yuri Bashmet has started to record some of them and has in the past coupled them with repertoire which has been fascinating to hear. On his earlier disc, on Sony, the String Quartet No. 13 was featured, coupled with the Brahms Clarinet Quintet arranged by Bashmet for viola and strings. Now, with a change of record label, he is back with his chamber orchestra in an all-strings disc. This time he couples the Barshai arrangement of String Quartet No. 8, with similar string works by Sviridov and Vainberg. The Sony disc won some awards when it was issued, and I would be surprised if this one doesn’t do the same.

The recording quality is absolutely superb, and the playing of the Moscow Soloists is beyond reproach, making this a very desirable issue.

The Shostakovich symphony is an arrangement of String Quartet No. 8, Op. 110, written whilst the composer was visiting Dresden, primarily to soak up the atmosphere for music for a film based upon the destruction of this city. The film music (Five Days, Five Nights) was the result, but more importantly, such was the impression that the ruined city made on the composer, he wrote the eighth string quartet as well as the film score. It is a deeply felt utterance and has become one of the composer’s most popular quartets. It was an obvious first choice for Barshai when starting on his arrangement of the quartet for strings. The additional rich timbre of the massed strings has added to the original, and to some, it is more popular in this format.

The Moscow Soloists make as good a job as I have heard. I enjoyed it very much. The incisiveness of the playing is outstanding, and this is aided and abetted by the extreme clarity and warmth of the recording.

The couplings are fascinating, both of them written by so-called pupils of the composer. Sviridov was described by Shostakovich as having "an enormous talent." Although Sviridov attended composition classes held by Shostakovich, he never considered himself a disciple. In his private diaries, Sviridov showed an almost pathological hatred of Shostakovich, although in public, he gave the older composer his due both as composer and teacher. Given this hatred of Shostakovich, it is fascinating to compare the Symphony for Strings with the Shostakovich/Barshai work. There is a very strong influence of Shostakovich throughout. This is a work that was originally thought to have been lost, but having been found again, it was arranged by the composer especially for this recording.

The Sviridov opens with a dramatic tutti, followed by a gentle lyrical cantilena. The scherzo introduces Jewish-sounding themes (a feature of many of Shostakovich’s works), and then the lyrical centre of the work moves into a broad restrained melody. The finale has a very impressive resolution to what has gone before and brings the work to a stirring conclusion.

The last work on the disc is by Vainberg, who was born in Warsaw in 1919 and educated at the Warsaw Conservatory. He escaped to the Soviet Union in 1939, escaping the advance of the Nazi troops. Vainberg, unlike Sviridov, never studied under Shostakovich, but always considered himself a disciple of the older composer. This symphony is of a different character to the other two, being more classically orientated; more or less in the style adopted by Prokofiev for his First Symphony.

All of the works here are thoroughly enjoyable, and I hope the disc enjoys the success which it deserves. I look forward to hearing the next instalment.

John Phillips

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