Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
The Bolt (Ballet Suite), Op. 27a (1933) [29:11]
Suite for Variety Orchestra (after 1956) [20:29]
Jazz Suite No. 1 (1934) [8:23]
Taiti Trot (Tahiti Trot), Op. 16 (arr. of Vincent Youmans’ Tea for Two) (1928) [4:10]
Russian State Symphony Orchestra/Dmitri Yablonsky
rec. October 2001, Studio 5, Moscow State Broadcasting and Recording House
reviewed as a 24/44.1 download; originally released on CD as Naxos 8.555949 and on DVD-A as 5.110006. SACD version 6.110104 nla
2xHD NA2012 [62:00]
I first encountered Muscovite conductor Dmitri Yablonsky on a rare SACD of Shostakovich’s music for the 1964 film Hamlet (see reviews by Colin Clarke and Gary Dalkin). To say I was bowled over would be an understatement; a lively, idiomatic performance and first-class sonics sent me scurrying for the Super Audio version of his Bolt and Jazz Suites; alas it was no longer available, at least not at a price I was prepared to pay. I settled for the CD (review), adding the DVD-A a year later. Then along came this 2xHD download, courtesy of producer André Perry and engineer René Laflamme. Would their much-vaunted DXD/DSD re-mastering process amount to a worthwhile upgrade, I wondered?
2xHD explain their recording philosophy in the downloadable booklet; it seems straightforward enough, the idea being to extract the most from master tapes – whatever the format – and, where necessary, from pristine LPs. In that respect they are similar to the likes of Bob Witrak’s High Definition Tape Transfers, whose variously-sourced offerings have impressed me in the past. However it pays to be cautious about these ‘breathed on’ reissues, which some listeners dismiss as a con. That said I’ve heard enough good ones to persuade me that it’s a viable and interesting exercise, even if the results aren’t always as good as claimed.
Then there’s the issue of cost; HDTT’s downloads/discs are very competitively priced, but some may feel that the $16.74 (£9.85) eclassical charge for the 24-bit flacs of this 2xHD download is just too much. The standard CD costs £6 and the DVD-A can be had for around £8.50. One advantage of the latter is that it offers surround sound as well. Curiously, my copy of the DVD-A indicates the original recording was 24/48, so I was surprised to see 2xHD’s files come up on my M-DAC's display as 24/44.1. I’m sure there’s nothing sinister in that, although buyers familiar with some labels’ less-than-transparent recording info might be less charitable.
Reading reviews of a few 2xHD offerings in Download News rather confirmed my preconceptions about this new label; unexceptional repackaging of unexceptional performances that certainly don’t warrant the extra being asked for them. At least these Bolt and Jazz Suites are terrific performances, which is a plus, but what of the sonics? As I discovered with the DVD-A of both this and EMI/Warner’s Previn/LSO Turangalîla sympathetic re-mastering can offer very real improvements in sound quality; not only that, these DVD-As give multi-channel enthusiasts a chance to show off their kit.
There are many excellent versions of The Bolt suite; one of the most exciting and immersive is Dmitri Kitaienko’s on Capriccio; weighty, wide-ranging and full of impulse and imagination this SACD is my first choice for the work. Indeed, it’s a perfect complement to his fine traversal of the symphonies (review). Turning to Yablonsky and 2xHD, first impressions are very promising; the side-drum and trumpet at the start of the Overture are electrifying, and that initial climax has impressive punch. Thankfully it’s not just about heft, for small details are similarly well conveyed.
I adore this music, which is as accomplished as anything Shostakovich ever wrote. Brimful of seditious charm and laced with the driest of wit this suite is a whirligig of tipsy tunes, musical raspberries and slinky, laugh-out-loud rhythms. The bureaucrat’s polka is all of those things – what delectable woodwind and sizzling percussion – and a lot more besides. There’s a welcome airiness to the recording and solo instruments are nicely positioned in the mix. Initially I thought the sound a little dry, but after a while I realised it was just clean and accurate in a way that hints at 2L’s field-leading BD-As.
Indeed, this download compares well with the 24/48 DVD-A – transients are especially crisp and percussive decay is well caught – even if the upper strings seem a tad wiry in the Tango. No such qualms about the Intermezzo, which sounds fine as well as being perfectly sprung and nicely detailed. There’s great presence too, and the depth and breadth of sound is very believable; just listen to the discreetly placed woodwind in Dance of the Colonial Slave-Girl (tr. 6) or the ear-pricking xylophone in The Conciliator (tr. 7). Even more telling is the nicely rounded sax in the General Dance of Enthusiasm and Apotheosis.
Good engineering aside the real honours lie with Yablonsky and his enthusiastic band. They certainly launch into the Suite for Variety Orchestra - until recently misidentified as the Jazz Suite No. 2, a three-movement work from i938 - with all the insouciance one could wish for. What a jolly March this is, and how infectiously played. Ditto the Lyric Waltz. Balances are just right – the pianos in Dance I and the guitar in the Little Polka, for example – and the big-band Waltz II is very well shaped. Alongside Riccardo Chailly (Decca) and Neeme Järvi (Chandos) Yablonsky seems so much more spontaneous, his players so much more engaged.
Those qualities shine through in the Jazz Suite No. 1, which shows the composer is deadly serious about the genre. The intimate, clubby ambiance and hip-swaying Hawaiian guitar in the Foxtrot (Blues) are highlights, and Yablonsky’s account of Tahiti Trot – famously jotted down in 40 minutes after Shostakovich heard Vincent Youmans’ Tea for Two – is as good as it gets. I’m inclined to think that’s true of this 2xHD re-master as well; it’s several cuts above the already decent CD, although it’s not a must-buy if you already own the DVD-A. As performances, though, they’re every bit as entertaining as the best in the catalogue. Richard Whitehouse’s original liner-notes are as clear and informative as ever.
A splendid re-master that knocks the CD into a cocked hat; top-notch performances, too.
Previous review (Naxos CD): Dave Billinge