Chamber Symphonies, Opp 73a & 83a (arr. Barshai)
Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne/Joshua Weilerstein
Fuga Libera FUG 769 70:26 mins
There’s a good deal to be said about experiencing Shostakovich’s Third and Fourth Quartets in the orchestrated versions devised by Rudolf Barshai. The big difference between these arrangements and Barshai’s much more famous transcription of the Eighth Quartet is that in these works the nucleus of strings is amplified by additional parts for solo woodwind and harp in the Third and more ambitiously, wind, brass, percussion and celesta in the Fourth. However, such an expansion in orchestral forces never sounds bloated since Barshai scrupulously respects the clarity of texture which is central to Shostakovich’s compositional technique. Indeed, it could be argued that the additional colours at Barshai’s disposal actually serve to enhance the symphonic dimensions of both works, especially in the war-ravaged aggression and despair in the third and fifth movements of the Third, or in the epic struggle that unfolds in the klezmer-inflected Finale of the Fourth.
Joshua Weilerstein and the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne deliver strongly characterised performances of both works. I particularly admire Weilerstein’s incisive rhythmic control, heard at its most impressive in the complex contrapuntal interactions of the Third Quartet’s first movement development section. Equally compelling is the pacing of the Finale of the Fourth, taken at a slow enough tempo to allow the tension to build up inexorably to a suitably cataclysmic climax. The only slight miscalculation comes at the beginning of the fifth movement of the Third, where the ruminating lower string line sounds rather ill-defined and is curiously obscured by the accompanying harp.