Shostakovich¥B Tchaikovsky

COMPOSERS: B Tchaikovsky,Shostakovich
LABELS: Profil Hanssler
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich,B Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Theme and Eight Variations for Orchestra
PERFORMER: Staatskapelle Dresden/Kirill Kondrashin
CATALOGUE NO: CD PH 06065
The early 1970s were great years for new music – and that, it turns out, includes Boris Tchaikovsky’s Variations for orchestra. While Britten, in Death in Venice, and Shostakovich, in the last three string quartets and the 15th Symphony, were facing up to mortality, here was a composer nearly 20 years Shostakovich’s junior revelling in the virtuosity and tonal capacity of a full symphony orchestra with a score of real substance. It’s hard to imagine a more comprehensive performance than Kondrashin’s world premiere of 1974 with the Dresden Staatskapelle, for whose 425th anniversary the Variations were composed. From the mysterious string chords and harmonics to heroic brass unisons, no sonority, it seems, is left unexplored.

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Any reservations about the performance of Shostakovich’s last symphony in the same concert – also Kondrashin’s last in Dresden before he fled to the other side of the iron curtain – come from a closer knowledge of the score. Quite apart from the naughtiness of two added percussion parts, the xylophone confidently rattles out rows of wrong notes, trumpets split at a nerve-racking point in the slow movement and the ghostly triumvirate of castanets, wood block and side drum fudges its crucial entry in the final tattoo to infinity. These should, however, be small issues alongside Kondrashin’s awesome control of dynamics (a little distorted at the loud end by Dresden’s valiant mobile transmitting unit), his flexible sudden crescendo and the almost impossible but very exciting pace in the comic-grotesque opening galop. For more sophisticated playing and engineering, stick to Haitink and the London Philharmonic; but seek this out for bags of atmosphere and an indispensable companion-piece. David Nice