Shostakovich, Pärt, Denisov, Shchedrin

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COMPOSERS: Denisov,Part,Shchedrin,Shostakovich
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Stalin Cocktail
WORKS: Chamber Symphony No. 2; Collage on the Theme B-A-C-H; Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten; Variations on Haydn’s Canon ‘Tod ist ein langer Schlaf’; Stalin Cocktail
PERFORMER: Vladimir Spivakov (violin)Moscow Virtuosi
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68061 2 DDD

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The main course is Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony No. 2: an arrangement for full string orchestra, by Vladimir Milman, of the composer’s Third String Quartet of 1946, here receiving its premiere recording. Any doubts about the exercise are quickly dispelled by the playing of the Moscow Virtuosi, which suggests all the exuberance and intimate response of chamber music while giving a perfectly valid extra weight. I wished only that more had been made of the work’s more disturbing aspects. Four short works complete this disc. Arvo Pärt’s Collage on the Theme B-A-C-H entertainingly plays fast and loose with Bach fragments. His well-known Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, one of several now on record, begins with the tolling bell with which Edison Denisov’s work closes; though slower, this performance sensibly avoids overdosing on the expressive angst so liberally available on the original ECM recording of the piece. Denisov offers some dour and uninspiring meditations for cello and orchestra on a canon by Haydn; the (unsung) words of the original – ‘Death is a long sleep, sleep is a short death’ – presumably explain the nature of this celebration of Haydn’s 250th anniversary. Rodion Shchedrin’s Stalin Cocktail, too – significantly, the most recent work on this disc – is hardly the bundle of fun it might have been: just a rather morbid deconstruction of a song written in praise of Stalin. Vivid performances are enhanced by the sympathetic acoustic of Blackheath Concert Halls.

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Keith Potter