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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Jazz Suite No. 1 (1934) [8:21]
Jazz Suite No. 2 – Waltz 2 (1938) [3:49]
Tahiti Trot Op. 16 (1928?) [3:31]
The Gadfly suite op. 97a – Barrel-Organ Waltz; Romance (1955) [8:43]
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor op. 35 (1933) [21:07]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor op. 102 (1957) [19:17]
The Unforgettable Year 1919 suite: The Assault on Beautiful Gorky op. 89a (1951) [7:32]
Philadelphia Orchestra/Mariss Jansons (Jazz 1, 2; Tahiti); Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields/Neville Marriner (Gadfly); Dmitri Alexeev (piano); English Chamber Orchestra/Jerzy Maksymiuk (opp. 35, 102, 89a)
rec. Giandomenico Studios, Collingwood NJ, March 1996 (Philadelphia); No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, October/November 1986 (ECO); St John’s Smith Square, London, May 1983 (ASMIF).

The coupling of this CFP disc is not replicated by any other company outside the EMI stable so comparisons are otiose except in relation to the concertos.

While these versions of the two Shostakovich piano concertos fall a shade short of the exuberance and sheer brio of their full price Hyperion counterpart they are much better than just creditable.  A fixture of the budget catalogue since their appearance on Classics for Pleasure LP in the early 1980s they are well recorded and sprightly. The hoarsely urgent edge given to the French horns lodges in the memory. Alexeev is not, on this occasion, quite the magician that Marc-André Hamelin is on Hyperion CDA6742 but he has the necessary reserves of impudent humour and outright romance to make the two concertos sing. He is however more successful in the romantic stuff in the Second Concerto than Hamelin. If on the other hand you are not allergic to a rather grainy and close sound then do not miss the Hall of Fame version of the Second Concerto from Bernstein (conductor and pianist) on Sony. Alexeev’s sympathy for the romantic vein stands him in good stead in the swooning Tchaikovskianisms of  The Assault on Beautiful Gorky; not otherwise widely available.

I have recently been working my way pleasurably through the splendid Capriccio 7 CD box of the Shostakovich cinema music (CAP49533). I can tell those who don’t know already that his film music, when not leaning on satire, often takes on a hyper-Tchaikovskian or even Russian nationalist mantle. You find much the same relaxed, inclusive, expedient, catholic and professionally polished borrowing of diverse styles in the contrast between the works of Alwyn and Frankel where the crevasse between concert symphonic style and silver screen language can be dramatically wide. The ‘jazz’ items and the Tahiti Trot originally partnered and added contrasting zest to the Jansons/Philadelphia Eleventh Symphony on EMI Classics 5556012. Jansons catches the composer’s pawky humour and, if you were wondering, the lighter pieces are light on their feet and not weighed down by the sumptuous flock and shagpile associated with Philadelphia. They are in that sense comparable with the Chailly/Concertgebouw Decca collections of the lighter Shostakovich and Kuchar’s inexpensive three CD survey of the film and dance music on Brilliant Classics. The Marriner version of the ubiquitously popular Gadfly music would not be my first version – just a little soggy by comparison with Emin Khachaturyan’s vivid if shrill-sounding recording (long-deleted EMI) or Grin’s more temperate Berlin version (Capriccio).

The identical coupling can also be had on HMV Classics HMV5867652 although the packaging seems less attractive than here. I have not been able to compare the notes which in the case of this CFP are by Andrew Huth. Given the 2005 copyright date they were probably first written for the HMV Classics disc.

This is an engaging single disc anthology of Shostakovich in lighter vein and all at bargain price. It should win yet more friends for the composer although if they then move to the symphonies they may find the contrast a bit of a jolt.

Rob Barnett



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