Shostakovich +
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Chamber Symphony, Op. 73a (String Quartet No. 3) (1946) [34:13]
Turceasca si Hora de la Goicea (Turkish dance and dance from Goicea) [2:49]
Suite of Romanian melodies [3:49]
Chamber Symphony, Op. 83a (String Quartet No. 4) (1949) [26:55]
Russian Klezmer Dance [3:45]
re:orchestra/Roberto Beltrán-Zavala
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 eClassical
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 pčre et fils 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 Moderato con 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 calibrated.

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 life.

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 la Goicea 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.

Dan Morgan

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