Shchedrin: Carmen Suite; Concerto for Orchestra No. 1 (Naughty Limericks); Concerto for Orchestra No. 2 (The Chimes)

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COMPOSERS: Shchedrin
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Carmen Suite; Concerto for Orchestra No. 1 (Naughty Limericks); Concerto for Orchestra No. 2 (The Chimes)
PERFORMER: Russian National Orchestra/Mikhail Pletnev
CATALOGUE NO: 471 136-2
Many of Rodion Shchedrin’s more recent pieces seem to me to be outrageously gimmicky, the composer over-conscious of the need to appeal to a wide audience but forgetting in the process to say anything. He can be forgiven that, for he grew up in strange times. He served at various times on official Soviet composers’ committees, learned to duck and dive, to discern and provide what was acceptable. The three works on this disc all come from the Sixties, as confusing an age as any. The Carmen Suite, of 1967, is extremely good fun. It is in fact an arrangement of Bizet’s music made for a ballet. Shchedrin was commissioned for something original, but came to the reasonable conclusion that to challenge Bizet would have been an act of folly. The work, scored for strings, timpani and four groups of percussion, was banned after one performance anyway, though Shostakovich’s typically principled intervention caused its quick unbanning. The two Concertos for Orchestra are both short works, the oddball title of the first (1963) referring to the improvised scandalous and frequently politically satirical rhymes of country folk, rampant even during Stalin’s terrors. The work coarsely reflects its coarse model. Equally coarse is its successor, a dissonant piece striving to sound modernistic. This was, after all, 1968, when the younger Penderecki was making the same sort of noises, to just as little lasting effect, in Poland. Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra play with staggering brilliance, willing simply to enjoy what lies on the surface rather than wondering if there is anything beneath. Stephen Pettitt

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