Shostakovich Music for Viola and Piano

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COMPOSERS: Dimitri Shostakovich
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Viola Sonata; Five Pieces from the Gadfly; Seven Preludes from Op.34 (arr. Yevgeny Strakhov)
PERFORMER: Lawrance Power (viola), Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA67865

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With its strong intimations of death, the dark, brooding and austere sound world of Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata hardly makes for a comfortable listening experience. Yet, to focus exclusively upon these features actually diminishes the overall impact of this profoundly moving work.

Fortunately, Lawrence Power and Simon Crawford–Phillips find a much greater variety of resonances in the score than is often the case. They embark on a musical narrative of epic proportions, taking at face value Shostakovich’s description of the first movement as a ‘novella’. You can hear both a sense of desolation – in the ghostly opening and closing pizzicato passages, for example – and one of despair, as in the impassioned delineation of the middle section.

Grim forebodings inhabit the central viola cadenza of the second movement. For the most part, however, Power and Crawford-Phillips place most emphasis on the more grotesque elements of the writing, as if to suggest the composer recapturing the energetic satirical style of his earlier career. The final valedictory Adagio, with its haunting allusions to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, poses the challenge of sustaining its tension, convincingly surmounted here in a performance that shows great insight and poignancy.

Framing the Sonata on this beautifully recorded disc are two extraordinarily resourceful transcriptions for viola and piano made by two of Shostakovich’s contemporaries. The highest compliment that can be paid to the duo’s strongly characterised performances of the Op. 34 Seven Preludes is that the music sounds as if it were made for these instruments. No less appealing are the Five Pieces from The Gadfly, with Power providing wonderfully expressive playing in the famous Romance and tremendous exhilaration in the concluding Folk Festival.

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Erik Levi