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Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Suite No. 1 for Variety Orchestra (1938) [24.46]
Overture on Russian and Kirghiz Themes, Op. 115 (1963) [9.19]
Jazz Suite No. 1 (1934) [7.45]
Novorossisk Chimes (1960) [2.32]
Festive Overture, Op. 96 (1954) [5.46]
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Theodor Kuchar
rec. 8 June 2004, Grand Studio, Ukraine Radio, Kiev

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As well as producing some of the most notable symphonies and string quartets of the 20th century, Shostakovich also excelled in occasional pieces and lighter music. This recently recorded compilation from Brilliant Classics combines two of the composer’s most colourful orchestral works with music written for jazz band and theatre orchestra. The results are as entertaining as we might expect.

It was during the 1930s that the two suites of jazz-related music were compiled. The Second Suite was not called as such by Shostakovich; rather he described it as Suite No. 1 for Variety Orchestra. At more than twenty minutes duration it is actually the most extended piece on the programme here, but its varied material makes for appealing listening. Not all the music dates from 1938, when the suite was put together, since it was compiled from sketches and other sources going back across a decade or more. If the background seems confusing, the results are compelling and entertaining.

In these jazz-related items, Theodor Kuchar draws idiomatic performances from the members of the Ukraine orchestra, and the pleasing results owe a lot also to the excellent recorded sound. Likewise the short but appealing Novorossisk Chimes, a patriotic piece written in 1960 using the melody ‘Song of Eternal Glory’, is a satisfying experience for the listener hearing it for the first time.

It is in the performances of the two symphony-orchestra items, the Festive Overture and the Overture on Russian and Kirghiz Themes, that some doubts appear. The string sound – violins in particular – lacks somewhat in body and lustre, and it is not clear whether this relates to the recording or to the playing. The performances are satisfactory in every other respect, nor is the string sound inadequate. However, the results are less successful than the other items on the programme.

There are full programme notes, placing the individual pieces in the context of the composer’s life and career, reflecting that the whole production is of a high standard.

Terry Barfoot

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