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Shostakovich: Jazz & Variety

Singapore Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton (BIS)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Shostakovich
The Age of Gold Suite; The Limpid Stream Suite; Tahiti Trot; Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 1; Suite for Variety Orchestra
Singapore Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton
BIS BIS-2472 (CD/SACD)   69:14 mins

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Entitled Jazz & Variety, this album encompasses four of Shostakovich’s more popular-style suites, mainly drawn from his ballet and theatre scores. These range from the poker-faced, Kurt Weill-like stylisation of 1920s dance music, complete with plunking banjo, in the Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 1 (1934), via the Prokofiev-like burlesques of The Age of Gold – a 1930 ballet about the vicissitudes of a Soviet football team in the wicked West – to the more straightforwardly traditional ballet numbers of The Limpid Stream(1935/45) set on an idyllic collective farm, and the Suite for Variety Orchestra put together from various pieces from the 1950s.

One item, the Waltz from the Jazz Suite, recurs twice: more fully orchestrated in The Limpid Stream, and in yet a third arrangement with a different, more banal middle section, in the Variety Suite. The collection culminates in Shostakovich’s twinkling orchestration of a version of ‘Tea for Two’, entitled Tahiti Trot (1927). Yet, in the middle of all these frolics, the searing intensity of the extended Adagio from The Age of Gold reminds us of the other, tragic side of Shostakovich.

Andrew Litton and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra lavish more care and subtlety on these pieces than the quality of invention in some of the music maybe deserves, additionally flattered by BIS’s spacious recording – though the Jazz Suite might have more bite in a drier acoustic. Still, this is a superior collection for those who relish this lighter, sometimes naughtier side of Shostakovich.

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Bayan Northcott