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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906–1975)
The Concerto Album
CD 1
Piano Concerto No.1 in C minor, op.35 (1933) [22:56]
Piano Concerto No.2 in F, op.102 (1957) [19:33]
Piano Quintet in G minor, op.57 (1940) [31:50]
CD 2
Cello Concerto No.1 in E flat, op.107 (1959) [29:32]
Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, op.99 (1948) [35:50]
CD 3
Cello Concerto No.2 in G, op.126 (1966) [35:43]
Violin Concerto No.2 in C# minor, op.129 (1967) [30:19]
see end of review for performer and recording details
EMI CLASSICS 5094282 [3 CDs: 74:35 + 65:22 + 66:09]
Experience Classicsonline

What a marvellous collection this is.
Shostakovich’s concertos cover the whole of his career, from naughty young man, in 1933, to within sight of his death, in 1967, and they cover a variety of moods from keystone cops chase in the 1st Piano Concerto to distant, sometimes very private, musings in the final two works.
It’s odd that Shostakovich never wrote a serious Piano Concerto, along the lines of the string works, for the two concertos for piano, enjoyable though they are, are, in general, light and frothy. Ironically, it was the placing of the great Piano Quintet after the Piano Concertos which got me thinking of this. No matter. Rudy is magnificent in the Piano Concertos, he’s equally at home in the jazzy/silent film music of the First as he is in the easy listening slow movement of the Second. Nothing is too difficult for him and he brings a humour and sympathy to the works. Excellently supported by both the Berlin and London Philharmonics, with intelligent direction from Mariss Jansons, and fine trumpeting from Ole Edvard Antonsen, these performances are real winners.
Both Violin Concertos were written for David Oistrakh and it’s good to have his recording of the First in this set. It’s a big, serious work – his longest concerted piece – and Oistrakh plays it with passion, style and intensity. There’s a spontaneity in the music-making that makes it sounds like a live performance or a recording done in one take such is the tension and bite. A magnificent performance from one of the great violinists and it’s worth the price of the set for this alone. The balance between soloist and orchestra isn’t always perfect, the violin in a couple of climaxes is a bit too close for comfort, but don’t worry about it for it’s a small point and it’s not enough to spoil your enjoyment of the interpretation. The composer’s son and the New Philharmonia give solid support.
The Second Violin Concerto is much more personal. There’s virtuosic writing, to be sure, but the argument is carried on with a quieter voice; there’s a resignation to this music. There are few tuttis, a fine, thoughtful, slow movement and a sparkling finale with a nagging undercurrent to foil the high spirits. Sitkovetsky gives a fine performance although I question his attack on some chords which seem too hard and perfunctory for this music, and somehow seem out of place here, but it will not disturb you overmuch.
The two Cello Concertos were written for Rostropovich; was there ever a musician who inspired and brought to life so many new works for his instrument? Tortelier’s performance of the First is, in general, very good, although in the second movement I felt that he somewhat distanced himself from the music. The first movement sets off at a brisk pace, which suits the bluff humour of the music well. However the soloist doesn’t always seem comfortable with the many double and triple stoppings and when, at figure 30, the second theme is reprised on horn with a complicated accompaniment for the soloist the brakes have to be applied - so he can get his fingers round the notes! The music then returns to its original tempo and all progresses well to the end. Berglund and the Bournemouth support Tortelier’s every inspiration magnificently. The sound here is rather over-bright and reverberant. I don’t remember the original LP being so. I do hope that it wasn’t thought necessary to do a bit of tweaking with the sound, making it fuller – and it is a full sound – for I am sure that it was always perfectly respectable.
Poor Truls Mørk has a difficult task with the Second Cello Concerto. There’s so little there to work with! This is music pared to the very bone, so much so that in the first movement the music is continually interrupted by a beat rest, giving the music a very disturbing, and disturbed, quality. The scherzo, although full of fireworks for the soloist, is equally troubled. The finale contains very Brittenesque fanfares for the orchestra, as well as the soloist, contrasted with a gentle rocking lullaby music. This culminates in the kind of clicking percussion music which ends the second movement of the Fourth Symphony. Mørk is superb, making every note, of the few he is given, tell with significance and, at times, pathos. Mariss Jansons has a fine control on this music from another planet and the London Philharmonic play excellently.
I must say that in each work the orchestra never merely “accompanies” the soloist. Each performance is a true joint effort, the soloist being pitted against the orchestra with each emerging unscathed from the confrontation.
Finally to the Piano Quintet, which completes the CD1 containing the Piano Concertos. In five movements, the Quintet become progressively more friendly as the music unfolds. The work starts with an intense and serious Prelude and Fugue, which is followed by a boisterous scherzo and a cool, slightly distanced, intermezzo. The whole is rounded off with an easy-going, and quite delightful, almost childlike, finale. The Nash Ensemble, always to be relied upon for fine performances, play with great feeling and give a splendid performance.
Erik Levi’s note in the booklet is all too short, but gets to grips with the music quickly. He explains things easily, without recourse to technical details. Considering the fact that these recordings span the period 1972 to 1995, and encompass both analogue and digital recording techniques, the sound is pretty uniformly very good. Allowances need to be made only for the reverberant First Cello Concerto.
Almost all these works were recorded by the performers for whom they were written. The only exception is Shostakovich himself playing both Piano Concertos. Oistrakh also made a recording of the First Violin Concerto, conducted by Mitropoulos, shortly after giving the American première of the work. These disks are, without question, invaluable to anyone interested in Shostakovich’s music. This set is equally valuable to anyone simply wanting a collection of Shostakovich’s concerted works or for the most ardent fan of the composer.
Bob Briggs

Performer and recording details
Piano concerto 1
Mikhail Rudy, Ole Edvard Antonsen (trumpet), Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. June 1994, Philharmonie, Berlin
Piano concerto 2
Mikhail Rudy, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. April 1997, EMI Studio No.1, Abbey Road, London
Piano quintet
Nash Ensemble
rec. November 1999, Henry Wood Hall, London
Cello concerto 1
Paul Tortelier, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Berglund
rec. 7-8 January 1973, Guildhall, Southampton
Cello concerto 2
Truls Mørk, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. 10/11 March 1995, EMI Studio No.1, Abbey Road, London
Violin concerto 1
David Oistrakh, New Philharmonia Orchestra/Maxim Shostakovich
rec. 25 November 1972, EMI Studio 1, Abbey Road, London
Violin concerto 2
Dmitry Sitkovetsky, BBC Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Davis
rec. December 1989, Studio 1, BBC Maida Vale, London


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