Shostakovich, Jan‡cek, Bridge

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bridge,Janacek,Shostakovich
LABELS: Decca Britten at Aldeburgh
WORKS: Cello Sonata, Op. 40; Seven Blok Romances
PERFORMER: Galina Vishnevskaya (soprano), Emanuel Hurwitz, Norbert Brainin (violin), Peter Schidlof (viola), Mstislav Rostropovich, Martin Lovett (cello), Benjamin Britten (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 466 823-2 ADD
It would be folly to rate this performance by Rostropovich and Britten of their mutual friend Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata as other than definitive. But interestingly, the defining attributes are not necessarily those which emerge in the great cellist’s recording with Shostakovich himself at the piano, issued as part of EMI’s commemorative edition Rostropovich – The Russian years. Here it’s the obtuse, inscrutable façade of Shostakovich’s music, its puzzling emotional concealments and its proletarian appeal which register most disturbingly.

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In this 1964 Aldeburgh account, the work strikes home with a passionate eloquence and insight that seems profoundly meaningful. Among the fillers on this Decca reissue, only Frank Bridge’s meandering Phantasie Quartet seems out of place beside Galina Vishnevskaya’s matchless delivery of Shostakovich’s Blok Romances. Transfers from the BBC’s analogue tapes are consistently good, conveying the intimacy of live Aldeburgh concerts to moving effect.

Yegor Dyachkov and Jean Saulnier hardly enter the running in Shostakovich; their account of the Cello Sonata lacks the conviction of purpose required to give it proper distinction, though the playing is mettlesome enough. They’re more convincing in Prokofiev’s Sonata, but even this falls way short of matching the recent Raphael Wallfisch/John York partnership on Black Box, while microphone proximity and compressed recording ambience give an artificial quality to this Disques Pelléas production.

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Finally, Decca’s Aldeburgh account of the Shostakovich Sonata is essential listening, warranting benchmark recommendation despite the existence of several fine modern alternatives offering more detailed and luxuriant sound. Michael Jameson