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Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Jazz Suite No.1 (1934) [8:21] (a)
Jazz Suite No.2 (1938): Movement VI - Waltz 2 [3:49] (b)
Vincent Youmans arr. Shostakovich: Tahiti Trot from “Tea for Two” Op. 16 (1928) [3:31] (c)
The Gadfly Suite Op. 97a (1955): Two excerpts [8:43] (d)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C-minor Op. 35 (1933) [21:07] (e)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in F-major Op. 102 (1957) [19:17] (f)
The Unforgettable Year 1919 Suite Op. 89a (1951): The Attack on Beautiful Gorky [7:32] (g)
Dmitri Alexeev (piano)
English Chamber Orchestra/Jerzy Maksymiuk (e-g)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Mariss Jansons (a-c)
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields/Sir Neville Marriner (d)
rec. March 1996, Giandomenico Studios, Collingswood, New Jersey (a-c); October-November 1986, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London (d); May 1983, St. John’s Smith Square, London (e-g)
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 382 2342 [72:49]

EMI has delved into its vaults and given us a new Classics for Pleasure CD that contains excerpts from several previous recordings. What one might call “The Complete Works of Shostakovich for Piano and Orchestra” was released in 1987 and parts of it have appeared since on several compilation albums. The two excerpts from “The Gadfly” conducted by Marriner date from 1986 and have each appeared separately on other discs since. More recent are the Jazz Suites and Tahiti Trot recorded in New Jersey in 1996. They appeared with the Symphony No.11 in 1997 and more recently in a compilation of the symphonies and other music - all conducted by Jansons. Obviously there is are variations in both performance and recording quality but as compilations go this is a good one.
Marriner and the Academy provide a wonderfully restrained rendition of the inevitable Romance from ”The Gadfly” and its accompanying Waltz. Unfortunately the sound in the Romance is somewhat muddy and the EMI engineers have not been able to clean this up. The Jazz Suites used to be a rarity, but nowadays there are quite a few recordings, especially of No. 1. Here the sometimes grim Jansons brings out all the irony in the score as if this was a Shostakovich film score without letting on that what the Soviets called jazz was not what was meant by the rest of us. Overall his performance of the 1st Suite is crisp and lively, although in the Foxtrot he seems to be remembering The Three Penny Opera. Unfortunately only one excerpt from the 2nd suite is included - the 6th (Waltz) which sounds more mellow and a little dragging, at least as compared with the complete recordings by Arnold Katz on Chant du Monde and Dimitri Yablonsky (see review) on Naxos. However the recording on these excerpts is preferable to the Marriner with woodwinds excelling and the saxophones and piano coming through well.
Most listeners who purchase this disc will do so for the recordings of the two piano concertos. In terms of the solo part Dmitri Alexeev provides an enviable combination of brashness, irony and tenderness that fits both concertos perfectly. In the first concerto his playing is extremely fleet and he is matched by Philip Jones in the trumpet part. The accompaniment is also of a piece and the balance between silliness and seriousness characteristic of the first movement is maintained all the way through. Maksymiuk gives a very idiomatic performance of the opening of the second movement and this tone continues through the movement as he gets wonderful ensemble playing from the strings. . Phillip Jones is at his best in this movement. The same ensemble closeness is shown in the moderato while in the last movement Alexeev really takes control leading the group to a exhilarating close.
The later, second concerto fares even better. The soloist and conductor catch the childlike tone of the beginning of the first movement and they make a skilful transition to the motorist sounds of the development. Alexeev’s playing is even more nimble here than in the 1st Concerto. At the same time he and the orchestra seem to be really enjoying themselves. The opening of the second movement receives a very gentle rendition which then leads into some very different territory. Maksymiuk leads the orchestra with great finesse and Alexeev matches him, producing a convincing contrast to the first movement. The last movement is a little bit of a let-down as the playing by all lacks the sincerity of the first two movements.
The last item on this disc is an excerpt from a film about the Russian Civil War, which having been made during Stalin’s lifetime features him in a far greater role than he actually played in the real events. The “Attack on Beautiful Gorky” is perhaps better translated as “Attack on Krasnaya Gorska (the Red Hill)”, a fort held by the Whites which is taken by the Red Army during the course of the film. For this scene Shostakovich wrote or inserted what can only be described as his answer to Addinsell and Bath, which makes a nice piece but doesn’t evoke anything martial. There are two other recordings, one by Martin Roscoe and conductor Vassili Sinaisky in the Chandos Movies series and the other on Adriano’s recording of the film suite with Ellena Aleksyeva at the piano (see review). I have not heard the first, but can say that Alexeev does a more exciting job than Alekseyeva and is more realistically recorded.
The touchstone for me for the combination of irony and feeling needed in these concertos is Christina Ortiz (see review) whose recordings date from a long time ago. The recordings done by the composer’s son and grandson also come to mind. Alexeev comes close to being in this company. All in all this is a usefully varied combination of Shostakovich’s works with some good playing by Alexeev. It makes an excellent and inexpensive purchase for someone looking for the Shostakovich concertos.
William Kreindler
see also review by Rob Barnett


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