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.
the ONYX Catalogue