last recording of the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, issued by Channel
Classics in 2006, contained Walton’s Sonata for Strings and the
souped-up Beethoven String Quartet op.135. An odd mix perhaps,
and the Beethoven of questionable - though not without - musical
merit. But the disc impressed all ears that heard it and the reference
quality surround sound on the hybrid SACD had much to do with
not surprising that the Amsterdam Sinfonietta (AS) is the only
professional string orchestra in the Netherlands - as the liner
notes helpfully point out - because there is apparently so little
repertoire to play that the 22-strong group has to scavenge Shostakovich
string quartets for their latest recording project. Whether they
qualify as “highly neglected” or “rediscovered works” - that’s
the repertoire the AS aims at presenting - I don’t know.
already recorded the 8th Quartet, in the famous Barshai
orchestration, and the 10th, they turn to the Second
and Fourth Quartets which might well be two more of the ‘least
untranscribable’ DSCH-quartets. The liner notes admit readily
that not all his quartets are equally well suited to be played
by a string orchestra – a statement as refreshingly candid as
it is true.
transmogrification in the present case consists of little more
than having the quartet parts taken by more players (6–6–3–4)
and adding a bass part which AS bassist Marijn van Prooij achieved
to do in a very un-intrusive manner.
breadth and the slow sweeping element that the 19 players achieve
expectedly resonates more with the slow(er) movements of the quartets,
the Allegretto and the Andantino of Quartet No.4
in D, op.83 and the ‘Recitative and Romance’ of No.2, op.68. Sonorous
humming lulls the ears into auditory complacency, more effectively
than four players ever could – in those moments where lull is
actually desired. In the Romance the quality is almost
that of a contemplative violin concerto. Beautiful!
only problem after all that pliable playing: The ‘big band’ can’t
quite jolt you back out of it, when necessary, either. That’s
to the detriment especially of the Second Quartet – where the
waltz loses all of its demonically dancing quality. The lean string
quartet sound has a way of being acerbic and biting that a superbly
drilled string orchestra just doesn’t.
Shostakovich fans with SACD-players and surround sound set-up,
this is going to be a very attractive release. For all others
it won’t likely be a very urgent acquisition.
Jens F. Laurson