Xavier Phillips and Les Dissonances perform Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 and Symphony No. 5

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Dissonances Records
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Cello Concerto No. 1; Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Xavier Phillips (cello); Les Dissonances
CATALOGUE NO: LD 009

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How interesting that the conductor-less, self-proclaimed ‘artistic collective’ Les Dissonances should move into 20th-century Russian repertoire, emulating the Russian Persimfans (‘First Symphony Orchestra without conductor’) which briefly flourished in the 1920s. Chamber music writ large is certainly what we get from principal cellist Xavier Phillips, soloist in Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto before going back to the orchestra proper for the Fifth Symphony. Those exchanges with a superb first horn, the concertante oboes, the trenchant, scary, hollow clarinet in the finale: all this adds up to high-level teamwork. And Phillips’s imprimatur as a Rostropovich pupil – he writes very eloquently on the relationship in a fine, albeit badly-proofed, booklet article – is heard in the focused engagement, the whispered intimacy with which the cadenza begins and above all the powerful-sweet sound in highest register.

For the symphony, leader David Grimal ups the string forces. What a pity that the forward, clear recording baulks at climaxes, which hampers the first-movement development. The final pyrrhic victory just sounds wrong: suddenly fast and as light as the players can make it, as if trying to cover up its deliberate banality. But there are many strong, unique features, starting with a peerless oboe solo that is given space to manoeuvre. The other woodwind shine and the strings in the slow movement build from vibrato-free antique style to as intense a climax as any I’ve heard.

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David Nice