Shostakovich + Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Chamber Symphony, Op. 73a (String Quartet No. 3) (1946) [34:13] Traditional
Turceasca si Hora de la Goicea (Turkish dance and dance from Goicea) [2:49]
Suite of Romanian melodies [3:49] Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH
Chamber Symphony, Op. 83a (String Quartet No. 4) (1949) [26:55] Traditional
Russian Klezmer Dance [3:45]
Folk music compiled and arranged by Vasile Nedea
rec. August 2014, Studio MCO5, Music Centre for Dutch Radio and Television, Hilversum, The Netherlands
Reviewed as a 24/96 download from
Pdf booklet included BIS BIS-2227 SACD [72:32]
BIS don’t usually duplicate material that’s
already in their catalogue – not without good reason anyway. Their
new box of Sibelius symphonies with Okko Kamu, Andrew Litton’s
Rachmaninov Second Symphony and the Liszt piano concertos with Kantorow
père etfils are certainly the equal of, or better
than, BIS’s alternative offerings. That may well be the case with
these Chamber Symphonies, although their earlier Kantorow/Tapiola recording
will be hard to beat (review).
As for the re:orchestra they may only have been founded in 2009 but
their players are drawn from some of Europe’s finest ensembles.
Moreover, their conductor, Roberto Beltrán-Zavala, is seen as a bright
new star in the musical firmament.
Rudolf Barshai, conductor, violist and one of Shostakovich’s closest
friends and allies, orchestrated the composer’s First, Third,
Fourth, Eighth and Tenth String Quartets; these became known as the
Chamber Symphonies (Opp. 49a, 73a, 83a, 110a and 118a respectively).
Barshai’s recordings of all five are included in the recently
released Shostakovich Edition (Brilliant 9240); he also recorded Opp.
73a/83a and Opp. 110a/118a for Deutsche Grammophon. Not surprisingly,
perhaps, these miniature symphonies aren’t as popular as Shostakovich’s
large-scale ones; that's reflected in the handful of recordings.
The start of the re:orchestra’s Op. 73a is most encouraging; those dancing rhythms are so affectionately shaped and there’s a delicious bounce to the playing that I like very much indeed. The Moderatocon moto is no less delightful, its gentle dialogues superbly caught by the recording team. These are chamber works after all, and there’s a thrilling intensity here, a powerful sense of common purpose, that one hears only in the best ensembles. Fine playing aside, Beltrán-Zavala deserves credit for keeping it all so crisp and buoyant.
It’s a mark of this conductor’s skill that he captures the
distinct character of each movement; indeed, the tart sonorities of
the Allegro non troppo are startling in the way they evoke
the Shostakovich ‘sound’. Ditto the keening strings of the
Adagio, whose vacillation between darkness and light is so
eloquently expressed. Goodness, what a lovely recording this is, how
vibrant and tactile. The strings are silky, the woodwinds are plangent
and there’s plenty of air around the notes. Even the denser passages
of the concluding Moderato are more lithe and transparent than
one might expect. More important, the music’s shifting moods –
its breath-bating ethereality in particular – are most beautifully
Op. 83a mirrors the more austere writing of Shostakovich’s Fourth
Quartet; these players certainly tap into the haunted beauty of the
Allegro and, especially, the brittle loveliness of the Andantino.
Remarkably it’s as if we’re suddenly transported to one
of those symphonic oases, away from the hurly burly, where Shostakovich
is at his most inward. Really, this is wonderfully nuanced playing.
The folksy elements of the first Allegretto – seen through
a glass darkly – are also very well done. The drums – sparingly
used – provide some unexpected bite, while Beltrán-Zavala and
his orchestra succeed in bringing the dancerly finale to full, gaudy
The fillers, compiled and arranged by the Romanian cimbalom player and
accordionist Vasile Nedea, are interesting because they’re from
the melting pot of traditional tunes and rhythms that infuse Shostakovich’s
varied oeuvre. The Turceasca si Hora de laGoicea
may have its roots in the Ottoman Empire but its infectious rhythms
find echoes in so many of Shostakovich’s more irreverent scores;
for me at least the giddy Suite of Romanian melodies brings
to mind the zany antics of Moscow Cheryomushki. As for the
schmaltzy Russian Klezmer Dance it's particularly pertinent
as it lies at the heart of the Op. 83a finale. Kudos to Beltrán-Zavala
for including these items; his liner-notes are very informative, too.
At the start of this review I suggested BIS don’t re-record repertoire
unless the new performances warrant it. Revisiting the Kantorow/Tapiola
accounts of Opp. 73a and 83a is certainly instructive, for we’re
faced with a very different sound-world. Broadly speaking theirs are
very streamlined readings – more symphonic, if you like –
and while the playing is superb I sorely miss the point and sparkle,
the roller-coaster of introspection and anarchy, that Beltrán-Zavala
and his team find in these works. In short, the latter’s performances
bring out the composer’s complexities and contradictions in a
way that the earlier ones don’t. That said, the older recording
is very impressive indeed.
Charismatic performances, full of spike and spark; an ensemble to watch.
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