Shostakovich: Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a; Piano Concerto No. 1; Two Pieces for String Octet

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
WORKS: Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a; Piano Concerto No. 1; Two Pieces for String Octet
PERFORMER: Sophia Rahman (piano), John Wallace (trumpet); BT Scottish Ensemble/Clio Gould (violin)
Doubtless Barshai’s arrangement of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 – renamed Chamber Symphony – has its advocates: those who prefer the luxuriance of a string orchestra to the intimate but stark lines of the original quartet. Linn’s fine recording of the 12 crack players of the BT Scottish Ensemble provides the best of both worlds, a successful hybrid that can project the raw energy of the Allegro molto, for instance, more effectively than the bigger forces of the Vienna Philharmonic with Jansons on EMI.


The weight and depth of a larger body of strings is lacking more noticeably in the Piano Concerto No. 1, where the forward recording serves to spotlight an absence of richness. The opening of the Lento has an icy clarity that compares unfavourably with the mysterious spell that Paavo Järvi is able to cast with the CBSO strings (also on EMI). Perhaps to contrast all the more with the tragic mood of the Chamber Symphony (Shostakovich was on the verge of suicide as he composed his autobiographical string quartet), the Gould/Rahman reading of the Piano Concerto is rather a lightweight affair. It is true that the Concerto contains some humorous, ironic touches, but Andsnes, for Järvi (and even more so Argerich, for Faerber on DG) place these in perspective by exploring the profundity of the most sombre phrases as well.


Lighthearted exuberance is definitely missing from the conclusion, however, as the strings prove an easy conquest for the dominating trumpet-playing of John Wallace, subduing all with his final fanfare, and offering a foretaste of Shostakovich’s militaristic brass writing. Deborah Calland