Shostakovich: Chamber Symphony (arr. Barshai); Symphony for Strings (arr. Barshai);Two Pieces for String Octet

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: New Albion
WORKS: Chamber Symphony (arr. Barshai); Symphony for Strings (arr. Barshai);Two Pieces for String Octet
PERFORMER: New Century CO/Stuart Canin
CATALOGUE NO: NA 088
Just how superior the Stuttgart players are may be gathered from the second movement of Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony, in which they display a grasp of rhythm, articulation, ensemble and tuning hard to fault. Russell Davies, who really feels his modern Eastern Europeans, contrasts this lament for Dresden and humanity with Yuri Bashmet’s sensitive arrangement of Schnittke’s elegiac String Trio. He introduces us to a powerfully moving piece by Latvian Peteris Vasks (b1946) – Musica dolorosa. It’s a pre-glasnost work whose tonal dramas, sliding perspectives and ‘stripped-down musical syntax, with echoes of Romantic and Baroque music and even of early church music’ (McBurney), linger long in the mind. Benefiting from charismatically brilliant playing, poetic phrasing, spectacular sound and spiritually involving bass resonances, this is an anthology not to be missed.

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The New Albion release usefully brings together Rudolf Barshai’s inimitable transcriptions of the Eighth and Tenth Quartets – the one autobiographical, ‘to the memory of the victims of fascism and war’; the other proposing that ‘evil, although it cannot be ignored, is no match for deeper human emotions’ (Alan George). Like the ECM album, the recording is clean and spacious. But the orchestral standard falls short of the German optimum. The Chamber Symphony in particular, a breathless scrap, suffers from speeds that tend to weaken rather than confirm its gravitas. Ates Orga