CD Reviews 14

Two Fables after Krylov, opus 4, Jurowski, Kölner Rundfunk SO, Kölner Rundfunkchor, Froschauer, Sinjawskaja

Piano Trio No. 1, opus 8, Moscow Trio

Two Scarlatti Pieces, opus 17, Rozhdestvensky, USSR SSO winds

The Bolt, opus 27, suite, Rozhdestvensky, Czech PO

The Bolt, opus 27, two pieces for organ, Desarbre

Intermezzos from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, opus 29, Jurowski, Kölner Rundfunk SO

Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, opus 29, for organ, Desarbre

Limpid Stream, opus 39, two pieces for organ, Desarbre

Cello Sonata, opus 40, Shostakovich, Shafran

Symphony No. 4, opus 43, Rozhdestvensky, USSR Ministry of Culture SO

Symphony No. 5, opus 47, Litton, Dallas SO

Symphony No. 5, opus 47, Mravinsky, Leningrad PO

String Quartet No. 1, opus 49, Talich Quartet

Symphony No. 6, Op 54, Mravinsky, Leningrad PO

Piano Quintet, opus 57, Talich Quartet, Langer

Symphony No. 7, Leningrad, opus 60, Masur, New York PO

Piano Trio No. 2, opus 67, Shostakovich, Oistrakh, Sadlo

Piano Trio No. 2, opus 67, Moscow Trio

Piano Trio No. 2, opus 67, Oistrakh Trio

String Quartet No. 2, opus 68, String Quartet of Georgia

Symphony No. 9, opus 70, Kosler, Czech PO

String Quartet No. 3, opus 73, Glinka String Quartet

Violin Concerto No. 1 opus 77, Mravinksy, Czech PO, Oistrakh

String Quartet No. 4, opus 83, Taneyev Quartet

String Quartet No. 5, opus 92, Taneyev Quartet

Symphony No. 10, opus 93, Mravinsky, Leningrad PO

Festive Overture, opus 96, Litton, Dallas SO

String Quartet No. 6, opus 101, Beethoven Quartet

Piano Concerto No. 2, opus 102, Litton, Dallas SO

Symphony No. 11, opus 103, Mravinsky, Leningrad PO

String Quartet No. 7, opus 108, Taneyev Quartet

Chamber Symphony, Op 110a, Orbelian, Moscow CO

Symphony No. 12, The Year 1917, opus 112, Mravinsky, Leningrad PO

The Execution of Stepan Razin, opus 119, Jurowski, Kölner Rundfunk SO, Kölner Rundfunkchor, Ritter, Sulejmanow

Seven Songs on Blok Poems, opus 127, Moscow Trio, Gerassimova

Violin Concerto No. 2, opus 129, Mackerras, Prague RSO, Tomásek

Violin Sonata, opus 134, Shostakovich, Oistrakh

String Quartet No. 14, opus 142, Glinka String Quartet

String Quartet No. 15, opus 144, Beethoven Quartet

§ Michelangelo Verses, opus 145, trans. Eisenmann bass & organ, Naoumenko, Desarbre

The Gamblers, Sans opus K, Chistiakov, Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, Kurpe, Rechetniak, Arkhipov, Krutikov, Pochapski, Gluboky

Light music from stage & screen, Orbelian, Moscow CO

Light music from stage & screen, Gorenstein, SO of Russia / Katz, Novosibirsk PO, et al.

Young Lady and the Hooligan, Gorenstein, Symphonic Orchestra of Russia 


Schnittke: Concerto for Piano & Strings, Orbelian, Moscow CO

§ Tishchenko: D. D. Shostakovich, from 12 Portraits for Organ, Desarbre, Korzoune

§ = World Première Recording

14_Eclectra ECCD-2046 /

Shostakovich Plays Shostakovich
Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor, opus 40[a]; Sonata for Violin and Piano, opus 134[b]; Piano Trio in E minor, opus 67[c].

Dmitri Shostakovich (piano), Daniil Shafran (cello)[a]; David Oistrakh (violin)[b,c]; Milos Sadlo (cello)[c].
Eclectra ECCD-2046. ADD mono. TT 76:16.
Recorded Moscow, 1946[a]; Prague, 1947[b]; Oistrakh’s apartment, Moscow, December 1968[c].

Recordings of Shostakovich playing his own oeuvre have suffered rather ignominious treatment on CD-reissue. Revelation’s own Shostakovich Plays Shostakovich series was a litany of truncated transfers, incorrect transfer pitches and over-zealous noise-suppression techniques.

Eclectra’s new compilation has obviously been prepared with great personal commitment by producer Andor Toth, who has written the engaging booklet notes. His company is also helping to publicise and raise money for the Daniil Shafran Memorial Fund founded by Steven Isserlis. Nevertheless, Eclectra have reissued this première recording of the Cello Sonata in an abridged form, omitting the first movement repeat, from the third bar to Fig. 10-1. To be precise, the first iteration of these bars is missing. This amounts to a loss of nearly five pages and four minutes of music.

When informed of this problem, Andor Toth told me that Eclectra’s sources were the original 78-rpm and later LP records, which he says have no repeat. Mr. Toth didn’t know if the masters from the recording session included the repeat, but said that Eclectra had no access to such items.

That the original recording did include the repeat is confirmed by the fact that the complete performance appeared twice on Revelation: a 1996 Daniil Shafran compilation coupled with Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata (Yakov Flyer on piano; RV 10017); and Vol. 7 in their Shostakovich Plays Shostakovich series, coupled with the same Oistrakh-Shostakovich recording of opus 134 appearing on the Eclectra disc (plus Three Fantastic Dances and the Polka from The Age of Gold; RV 70008). The latter was one of Revelation’s last releases before they ceased trading due to copyright-infringement proceedings, so few copies reached retailers. Neither it nor RV 10017 is in the current catalogue.

The complete Shostakovich-Shafran performance is currently available [deleted since this review was written], however, on a two-disc set entitled Dimitri Chostakovitch par lui-même from the French label Dante Lys. This issue also offers the Piano Trio recording supplied on Eclectra, a recording of the Piano Quintet with the composer accompanying the Beethoven Quartet, as well as a 1946 recording of Quartet No. 3 from the Tchaikovsky Quartet, sans Shostakovich (LYS 369-370).

Mr. Toth hypothesised that the repeat in the supposedly complete recording might have been spliced in from elsewhere. Simultaneous playback reveals both the Revelation and Lys versions to be exactly the same, weakening but not disproving his hypothesis; their common ancestor might still be illegitimate. More convincing evidence to the contrary is the fact that the performing styles of both cellist and pianist are the same in first and second occurrence of the repeat, indicating that if one is indeed spliced in from a different session, Shostakovich and Shafran are still the authors. Finally, I hear no audible evidence of a splice on either Revelation or Lys.

I suspect no intent to mislead on Eclectra’s part, so it is with regret that I cannot recommend their new disc if what you want is the Cello Sonata – for that, turn to Lys. And yes, it is a worthwhile recording to hear, not only for its historic status. Shafran sounds rather slithery when set beside Rostropovich’s 1957 performance with the composer (Russian Disc RD CD 15 005; Revelation RV 70005; both deleted), but he emotes with greater subtlety. Shostakovich is in finer pianistic form in the première than with Rostropovich. Furthermore, I find the earlier version more moving, not least of all because of the gravitas of its more expansive Largo, which lasts 8:59 to the later recording’s 7:59. Shafran and Shostakovich also allot the three other movements substantially more time, rendering the sonata as less of a virtuoso showpiece, more of a contemplative discourse.

If, however, you are looking for the première recording of the Violin Sonata, then the Eclectra CD is your only current supplier. As noted above, this appeared previously on Vol. 7 of the Revelation series, but that would be undesirable even were it still available, as the recording was transferred to CD more than a semitone sharp. Even more unforgivably, Revelation used a noise-reduction method that inserts disorienting digital silence between notes.

This remarkable document was taped in David Oistrakh’s Moscow home in December 1968, soon after his return from tour in the UK. Shostakovich had been so anxious to hear his new composition played by its dedicatee that he had mailed the touring Oistrakh the score, along with a tape recording of Boris Tchaikovsky and Moisei Vainberg playing a two-piano version, so that the violinist could be ready to perform it upon his return. Not only is the Shostakovich-Oistrakh tape the original instrumentation’s first recording, it pre-dates the first public performance, 3 May 1969 in Moscow with Oistrakh joined by Sviatoslav Richter, and even the customary preview at the Union of Composers, which Oistrakh and Vainberg gave on 8 January.

The acoustics are not what a studio could manage in 1968, and in the second movement Shostakovich’s quavers blur together. Nevertheless, the sound is usually adequate to reveal the specific qualities of the recital, and the friends in attendance are quiet as mice. Early on in the first movement, Oistrakh’s clock strikes the hour in the background – Eclectra guess 8 o’clock, but I hear 10 chimes!

By 1968, Shostakovich’s right hand had several times required medical treatment, being progressively incapacitated by poliomyelitis, and his ill health returned him to hospital a month after this taping. There is little finesse to be heard in his playing here, and he stumbles more than a few times. Then again, the first movement of the Violin Sonata is so utterly devoid of expressive markings, and indeed, humanity, that perhaps Shostakovich’s wooden phrasing therein was an interpretative decision, not a technical limitation. Both Oistrakh and Shostakovich pound out the second movement like machines. Their playing in the third movement is more organic, and the repetitions of its long, chromatic main theme evoke sympathy.

Unsurprisingly, the Violin Sonata’s May 1969 première by Oistrakh and Richter (BMG/Melodiya 74321 34182 2) is musically superior to the 1968 taping, and is essential for anyone interested in this opus. There is, however, something almost desperate about Shostakovich’s own recording – a raw awareness of Death’s implacability? – which makes it more than a curiosity.

The famous 1947 Shostakovich-Oistrakh-Sadlo Prague recording of the Piano Trio is an old hand at CD reissue: Supraphon (CO 4489; deleted), Revelation (RV 70006; deleted), Vol. 1 in Doremi’s David Oistrakh Collection (DHR-7701), the Lys compilation, and now Eclectra. Revelation’s transfer was significantly sharp, and Doremi’s is very slightly flat. Such problems are not uncommon with masters of this vintage, because recording speed was frequently imprecise and/or inaccurate, thus requiring compensation at the time of transfer to CD. Lys and Eclectra seem to get it right.

This is a fast, straight-faced performance, and given the circumstances of war and personal loss surrounding the Trio’s creation – not to mention the tragic potential inherent in the score – it is odd that the composer does not set a more mournful tone for the proceedings. As it was recorded in a single take, without editing, there are also errors of execution. Nevertheless, this is one of the better examples of Shostakovich’s skill at the keyboard.

The original was recorded on shellac, so there is a fair amount of surface noise. Eclectra transfer the recording at a lower volume than do Lys, but the background hiss is similar on both once one adjusts the dial.

Eclectra’s notes tell us that Shostakovich’s friend Ivan Sollertinsky died in a concentration camp. This misinformation has surfaced before in CD notes. It presumably arises from the juxtaposition of the Trio’s dedication to the memory of Sollertinsky and the Jewish “dance of death” theme in its finale, which reflects Shostakovich’s revulsion at reports that Nazi death-camp guards forced inmates to dance at their own graves. For the record, Sollertinsky died of a heart condition while safely nestled in the bosom of Mother Russia. Drs. Laurel Fay and Nora Avins Klein inform me independently that Sollertinsky was not Jewish, based on conversations with his friends and friends of his family. In addition, Lys give an incorrect date of 1946 for the Trio recording. The composer’s recorded legacy deserves better quality control.

W. Mark Roberts

14_Delos DE 3259 /

Dedicated to the Victims of War and Terror
Chamber Symphony, Op 110a; Schnittke: Concerto for Piano and Strings.
Constantine Orbelian, Moscow Chamber Orchestra.
Delos DE 3259. DDD. TT 47:48.
Recorded Skywalker Sound, Marin County, California, 5 & 7 March 2000.

The disc is subtitled Dedicated to the Victims of War and Terror, no doubt a spin on the original “subtitle” of the Eighth quartet. I can already hear anti-revisionist reviewers having a field day with this one, just as one did for his review of the Emerson’s quartet cycle in Gramophone magazine.

I personally care less for the subtitles than the total timing of this disc, which at 48 minutes really underruns. On the plus side we have the distinguished Moscow Chamber, and the company of Schnittke’s fascinating concerto.

Having the Moscow Chamber Orchestra perform the opus 110a, their signature piece, is surely special. I believe they are the largest contributing factor to the success of this performance. Their lean, muscular tone conveys a terrifying power and a bleached numbness, especially in the quiet music. The opening movement is played out in windswept, bleak tones that refuse to romanticise, perhaps even to a fault. Some may yearn for a bit more compassion, but Orbelian and his band are brutally severe. While this works up a surreal chill in the slow movements, the Allegro Molto and the Allegretto sound more passionless than mechanical. The relentless arpeggios of the Jewish dance are terrifying, but the violins do not convey the utter desperation required to make this section truly shocking.

The Allegretto is somewhat straight-faced and comes by way of a rather impatient transition from the previous movement. There is hardly a trace of even the bleakest humour, especially needed by the grinding cellos in the second theme. In the first Largo the Moscow Chamber’s stunning muscularity serves up some pretty hard knocks on the door.

From here on the pained timbre of this wonderful ensemble draws the most out of the score. Not a shred of sentimentality is offered, even for the Lady Macbeth quotation … and rightly so, for this is Shostakovich swallowing the last of his fond reminiscences, a bitter pill. Everything is so hushed and bleached that when the final chord comes in with the full weight of the basses it is shockingly beautiful: I nearly thought it was a pipe organ intoning the end of this painful eulogy. It is almost worth enduring the over-literalness of the central movements to get to this point of illumination.

The Schnittke Concerto for Piano and Strings makes an excellent companion to the Shostakovich, even supplying a link via Schnittke’s use of the Moonlight Sonata, recalling Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata. This 1979 work takes off from Shostakovich’s severity and ups the tension a few notches, in Schnittke’s own bizarre way. The piano leads the orchestra in search of its theme, lost amongst a phantasmagorical world of dark and half-light, regularly reaffirmed with cryptic appearances of the hymn made famous by Tchaikovsky, Gospodi pomilui of the Russian liturgy. It is a harrowing work, as full of beautiful moments as it is with bursts of gut-wrenching severity and violence.

Shaped somewhat parallel to the Shostakovich, it begins in quiet nervousness as fragments of the main theme are exposed. As the work progresses, it picks up fragments of ideas, most of them surprisingly tonal, and critically the Moonlight Sonata cell, which is dragged into the maelstrom leading to the climax.

The Allegro is a brutal, motoric toccata that takes the spirit of Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony several steps further. The Beethoven fragment mutates into a horrifying spectre of its former self, the soloist driving the ideas into endless spirals of distortion until the hymn appears like a wall of judgement. The soloist descends into a bluesy, drunken twilit world that leads into a grotesque Mephistophilean Valse, where again the Beethoven fragment is caught in a sort of limbo, unable to escape.

I especially love the use of huge tone clusters that often suggest bells run amok, a Musorgskian nightmare that rings throughout the work. The central cadenza is dark and searching, hushed throughout until it builds, through left hand clusters and the right hand’s desperate chants, into the cataclysmic peak. Here, the main theme is pitched against the hymn: Schnittke sets up a marvellous stage for the battle for enlightenment in a vividly colourful and original manner.

As in the Shostakovich, the work ends in a quiet, distilled atmosphere where the piano ruminates on the dramatic events past. Unlike Maya Pritsker who wrote the fascinating notes and claims that “the quest for spiritual truth has found its answer”, I am not sure if the soloist finds the answers he is searching for. The ending, like a huge cycle that ends where it begins, seems to pose eternal questions that cannot be answered. But perhaps that is the answer?

Orbelian at the piano makes this a far more moving recital than the Shostakovich. It is a powerful work with plenty of material to reflect upon and to digest, and Orbelian relishes the task with all his might (the score demands huge responses on the keyboard; these Orbelian delivers with the strength of a madman). The orchestra also throws much more heart into this work, as if the controlled tears of the Shostakovich find cathartic release in the Schnittke.

In the end I am a little disappointed at the lack of ferocity of the Chamber Symphony. One finds more agitation elsewhere – in Turovsky’s Chandos version (CHAN 6617), for example, which is scorching in the fast sections. Orbelian doesn’t quite whip up the heat, and knowing the Moscow Chamber from its electrifying execution under Barshai, I am certain the orchestra is capable of far more than Orbelian gets for the Shostakovich. Having the Schnittke is a major asset; it is a work that will draw you in inevitably, if not at first encounter. Then again, with another twenty minutes of disc space to spare, one will not be blamed for feeling short-changed. At any rate, it is still a disc worth hearing.

C. H. Loh

14_Delos DE 3257 /

Shostakovich Waltzes
Waltz from Michurin, opus 78; Waltz from Return of Maxim, opus 45; Waltz from Golden Hills, opus 30; Waltz from The Gadfly, opus 97; Galop (VI) from Ballet Suite No. 1; Waltz from Pirogov, opus 76; Waltz from The First Echelon, opus 99; Polka (IV) from Ballet Suite No. 1; Waltz from Moscow, Cheremushki, opus 105; Waltz from The Human Comedy, opus 37; Folk Festival (Spanish Dance) from The Gadfly; Waltz from Unity (Song of the Great Rivers), opus 95; Dance (III) from Ballet Suite No. 3; Lyric Waltz from Ballet Suite No. 1 [notes leave out “1”]; Galop (VI) from Ballet Suite No. 3; Humoresque-Waltz from Ballet Suite No. 1; Polka from The Golden Age, opus 22; Waltz (I) from Ballet Suite No. 2; Tahiti Trot from The Golden Age; Dance (II) from Ballet Suite No. 1; Waltz (V) from Ballet Suite No. 3.

Constantine Orbelian, Moscow Chamber Orchestra.
Delos DE 3257. DDD. 57.22.
Recorded Great Hall, Moscow Conservatory, 12-14 July 1999.

What immediately impresses with Constantine Orbelian’s sampling of Shostakovich’s lighter side is how respectful the performers are towards the music. These dance movements are all played with scrupulous attention to detail, and a lightness of touch (though not tone); take, for instance, the alternately cosy and ebullient presentation of the Waltz from Kozintsev’s 1947 film about the surgeon Pirogov, or the delightful harp work in the Waltz from the 1931 score to Yutkevich’s Golden Hills. At the same time, the performances are not wanting for gaiety, as can be heard in the uproarious Galop, No. 6 in Ballet Suite No.1 (taken from the ballet The Limpid Stream), or the rollicking Folk Festival from The Gadfly.

The programming is exemplary, arranging the works to maximise contrast between consecutive pieces. For example, the lilting Humoresque-Waltz, No. 5 in Ballet Suite No. 1, is followed by the grotesque Polka from the ballet The Golden Age, while the sinuous Tahiti Trot is followed by a Dance originating from The Limpid Stream‘s aptly named Polka Pizzicato. Conversely, the charming rendition of the Barrel Organ Waltz from The Gadfly is separated by seven tracks from the superficially similar Waltz from Joris Ivens’ propaganda film Song of the Great Rivers.

Negotiating the opus numbers, however, is a Byzantine task, as Shostakovich recycled this music in several numbered works, as did arranger Lev Atovmyan in numerous suites. Orbelian’s selections cover many of the Ballet Suite movements that Atovmyan cobbled together from Shostakovich’s film, stage and ballet scores. The mother lode for this mining was The Limpid Stream, source of half a dozen of the Ballet Suite numbers on this disc. The Bolt ballet music gives us the Humoresque-Waltz. In addition to the works assigned Ballet Suite titles by Delos, the Spring Waltz from Dovzhenko’s 1948 film about the botanist Michurin is No. 5 in Ballet Suite No. 2; the Waltz from The Human Comedy stage production is Waltz No. 1 in Ballet Suite No. 3; and the Waltz from Song of the Great Rivers is No. 2 in Ballet Suite No. 4.

A label stuck to the wrapping proclaims that the Waltz from the 1956 film The First Echelon is heard in Eyes Wide Shut, the 1999 Stanley Kubrick movie starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. This Waltz reincarnates as Waltz No. 2 of the Suite for Variety Orchestra, and the soundtrack to Eyes Wide Shut used Riccardo Chailly’s performance with the Concertgebouw Orchestra from Decca’s Jazz Music album (433 702). Considering the psychosexual focus of Eyes Wide Shut, a less disciplined reviewer might draw the reader’s attention to Delos’ description of The First Echelon as “A film on the conquest of virgin soils.” Instead, I’ll note that although this music was well chosen to heighten the surreal atmosphere of Eyes Wide Shut, Orbelian’s interpretation does not sound as sardonic as did Chailly’s, thus remaining true to the light mood of his other pieces.

The fine performances are shown to advantage by the rich, pleasantly reverberant recording. The disc is a genuine delight that will win fans for the composer in unexpected quarters.

W. Mark Roberts

14_Delos DE 3246 /

Festive Overture, opus 96[a]; Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, opus 102[b]; Symphony No. 5 in D minor, opus 47[c].
Andrew Litton, Dallas Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Litton (piano)[b].
Delos DE 3246. DDD. TT 73:59.
Recorded McDermott Hall, Meyerson Center, Dallas, 19-20 May 1998[a,c]; 30 September 1998[b].

Assessing the Fifth Symphony is complicated business. Everyone has his/her favourite recording and there seems to be a lack of consensus as to which is the all-round top recommendation. Performance of the Fifth remains dogged by issues of interpretation and tempo, owing no less to the remarks in Testimony than to mistakes in the metronome markings.

Litton dives in with a fine performance, I might say quickly lest this should be forgotten. My initial response was one of great enthusiasm; much of what Litton and the Dallas Symphony do really moves the listener. The sound is splendid, especially since Delos have always seemed to me in the past to be missing something aurally – their engineers have obviously made great improvements in this area. Delos also boast “Virtual Reality” sound, meaning that this CD can be heard in surround sound through a Dolby Pro-Logic decoder. This review, however, was conducted using my normal hi-fi stereo set-up.

After several listenings little idiosyncrasies begin to creep in on the listener. It’s especially true of this symphony, which has so captured our imaginations, that preconceptions as to how it should unfold are hard to override. But this may be our problem, not Litton’s. I for one, reared on the straightforward readings of Previn (EMI 572658 2) and Ashkenazy (Decca 421 120 2; deleted) with their brisk Finale and Coda, have taken quite a while to appreciate and assimilate the tension and darkness of the slower approach to the coda, which is best handled by Järvi (Chandos CHAN 8650) and Mravinsky (Russian Disc 11023, rec. 1966).

I shall not go into the issue of tempi in the Finale since it should be well known to DSCH readers, except to say that there are some tempi that have developed purely out of performance habit and are not written in the score. For example, the common practice of slowing down seven bars after Fig. 111 is not marked on any score I know (except in the band transcription by Richter, Boosey and Hawkes, 1947). In the end, it is a matter of taste, although the outer movements of the Fifth work in a highly cinematic manner, with scenes cutting from one to another, and just the right shaping is critical to overall success.

Right, back to Litton. For me the real test of a conductor’s grasp of this symphony is how he handles the crucial First Movement, with its many problematic transitions. Here Litton does admirably, articulating the opening pattern with great fluency (none of that irritating detached articulation) and with requisite ferocity, pulling the many parts together with great poetry. This is an aspect I also admire in Previn’s underrated 1977 recording with the Chicago Symphony; Järvi too has excellent pacing in this movement. Litton roughly follows their interpretive style.

The first subject is well phrased and conveys an atmosphere of nervous anticipation. The second subject thus arrives as a defrosting of emotions, again taken at a moderately slow pulse so that the arching string lines have time to contemplate. Ancerl and Mravinsky push this section well beyond its Moderato, sacrificing the false sense of calm that would make the development more threatening. Litton’s development needs a little more bite from the brass, who are resonant, if a little too manicured. Nevertheless, Litton whips up a sufficient storm after a slight lapse midway, and splices expertly into the grimacing march. I miss the terror in Mravinsky’s furious development, a harrowing edge also captured by Järvi and Ashkenazy, but only just glimpsed through Litton.

The Allegretto is skilfully performed, striking a nice balance between humour and sarcasm. The liberties Litton takes with some dramatic tenuto, and the lethargy of the violin-flute solos may not be to all tastes, but they do little to spoil an insightful execution. More annoying are the first violins who are noticeably lax in the first entry, playing a lazy legato where sharp staccato (marked marcato) is required.

The Largo is also beautifully executed; here Litton explores the numb terror of this music instead of indulging in the often-overplayed anguish and pain . The strings achieve a lovely shimmering glow, which in this atmosphere of stillness hovers like mist on a gloomy night. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, Litton plays out this movement as the composer’s eulogy, whispered in solitude until it cannot contain its anger. Again, if Litton could extract a little more rawness from his forces – from the timpani, for example, at the first climax – this movement would be that much more rewarding.

When the Finale breaks the hushed memorial it does sound a rude intrusion. Curiously, the woodwinds enter with a slow trill in the baroque manner. Litton observes the composer’s carefully marked increases in tempo almost literally where others apply it more subtly, except at Fig. 105 where he anticipates the marked accelerando by several bars, which rather spoils the effect. Still this section has plenty of bite, although no one can match the frenzy that Mravinsky whips out of the Leningraders.

Litton’s Piu Mosso trumpet solo does not sound as desperate amidst the swarm of violins as does Mravinsky’s or Järvi’s, although throughout this work the xylophone has been exemplary in really hammering it out as required. From here on things take a decidedly “post-Testimony” turn (I hate the term but I expect that its implications are clear). Litton grinds the frantic Piu Mosso to a halt with a huge allargando before Fig. 111 (the point where the trombones re-introduce the main theme to the tam-tam splash). The score in fact marks an increase in tempo to minim=92. I don’t particularly like this rather ugly bit of over-dramatising, but Litton probably takes his cue from Rostropovich, whom he seems to follow from here until the very end.

As can be expected, the start of the final section begins far more slowly than with Järvi and Mravinsky. From here it is one drag through the mud to the final coda, which I personally experienced as a laboured anticlimax. I know that Shostakovich allegedly wanted the Finale to reflect forced rejoicing, but as Mravinsky and Järvi have both shown, the score amply supplies the ironies without need for exaggeration. Again if you are comfortable with Rostropovich’s vision then you should welcome Litton’s approach. I just don’t believe the Finale is best served this way.

After years of scouring for the perfect Fifth (no pun intended) my ideal still comes no closer than a combination of vintage Mravinsky, Järvi and Ashkenazy. Mravinsky drives the music unrelentingly, Järvi supplies a biting account of the revised coda tempo, while Ashkenazy offers a convincing middle-ground interpretation with plenty of edge.

Measured against current favourites, Litton does not put enough grit into what is a polished, sensitive performance. There is a definite sense of great events unfolding but the listener is not plunged head-on into the maelstrom as with the others. But apart from the Finale, which will appeal only to those who like the hollow triumph of the coda beaten into them, Litton does show an admirable grasp of the symphony’s inner world.

Litton serves up a crisp, rollicking account of the Second Piano Concerto, playing the solo himself with great style and plenty of dash in the outer movements and a warm poetic flair in the Andante. I particularly enjoyed the nimble interplay between the soloist and the orchestra, especially during the headlong rush to the closing of the first movement.

The Festive Overture is served up with a glowing, majestic sound that is this orchestra’s hallmark, and is perfectly paced and beautifully balanced, even if at the big cello tune those diabolical syncopations are not as nimble as they should be. Personally, I would have preferred the couplings to come at the end – opening the programme with such cheeriness somehow seems disrespectful to the harrowing Fifth.

Conclusion? I have heard worse Fifth Symphonies from more-established ensembles and conductors (Maxim’s on Collins Classics CD 70122 is one such major disappointment), so Litton delivers much more than I expected. The Dallas Orchestra sound fantastic, an ensemble full of vibrant colour and expression, and through Litton’s direction it is a sound that manages to convey some of the bleakness required. Will it displace any of the alternatives mentioned? I am afraid not, by quite a margin. In particular, the brass are just a bit too clean, an asset in any other case (for example in the Festive Overture), but not one that serves the Fifth Symphony well. My suspicion is that a bit more metal (and thus mettle) would have pushed the voltage of this recording up a few notches.

C. H. Loh

14_Teldec 3984-21467-2 /

Symphony No. 7 in C major, Leningrad, opus 60.
Kurt Masur, New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
Teldec 3984-21467-2. DDD. TT 74:44.
Recorded live Avery Fisher Hall, New York, May 1998.

Kurt Masur directs a live Leningrad symphony that would win a warmer welcome were the existing niches not already occupied by superior competitors. Some of Masur’s interpretative tweaks sit well, such as the premature accelerando from Fig. 121-4/7:41 of the third movement, but most, like the unmarked ritardando around Fig. 131/10:00, seem arbitrary, dissipating momentum and dramatic tension. Wigglesworth’s BIS account (CD-873), reviewed in DSCH 10, is crammed with far more – and more persuasive – revisionism than is on offer here.

The symphony’s dramatic line remains just shy of taut even where Masur plays things straight. Most critically for me, the wind up to those triumphant bars following Fig. 204/15:31 in the finale needs to be cranked an extra half-turn to trigger the shiver that usually spreads from the back of my neck at that juncture. This sensation Valery Polyansky and the Russian State Symphony Orchestra deliver in their introspective testimony on Chandos (CHAN 9621; see DSCH 10).

The Teldec performance does have its good qualities: solid accuracy on the part of all musicians, notably the brass, plus ravishing beauty of tone in, for instance, the wistful opening statements of the third movement. If anything, the players make their job seem too effortless, for I found myself wishing perversely for a little more of the strain that the St. Petersburg Philharmonic – with authentic raspberry-blowing horns – reveal in Vladimir Ashkenazy’s rather rough and ready submission on Decca (448 814-2). Still, one cannot but admire the virtuosity on display in the new entry.

That said, listening to the present release reinforces the impression left on me when I attended one of the concerts at which it was taped: the New York Philharmonic play like a collection of fine soloists rather than as a truly cohesive instrument. Matters are not aided by the recording’s up-front vantage point. Though Teldec’s mixing of their many microphones is characteristically skilful, exposing cleanly all internal detail, the individual instruments are unnaturally spotlit. The result is rather like watching arts-video coverage of a classical concert, with the camera focussing in closely on whichever player has control of the melodic ball. A most regrettable exception is that the closing timpani sound distant and fail to pack the visceral wallop one expects.

Close miking also results in the faithful reporting of every shuffle and squeak from the stage; during some quiet passages, stage noises blend into something resembling analogue hiss. Neither have the engineers managed to spare the home listener from the inconsiderate New York audience whose fidgeting so vexed me during the live concert. Their coughs obscure the solo winds in their denouement to the first movement’s climax.

Ashkenazy’s Leningrad derives from sessions on 5 and 6 May 1995, immediately preceding a concert in the eponymous city commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War. Winds of history that bypass Masur’s urbane account scour Ashkenazy’s reading, quite independently of the 1941 radio address that the composer broadcast to his countrymen, with which Decca precede the symphony. The St. Petersburg players understand, in their marrow, what is at stake here.

This is not to say that an outsider’s report is necessarily unreliable. Something epic gelled in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 1989 performance of Symphony No. 7 under Leonard Bernstein (Deutsche Grammophon 427 632-2; coupled with Symphony No. 1). We don’t discuss it much these days, but this 2-disc set remains available – and eminently recommendable. Bernstein tells a riveting story in which one can immerse oneself completely, and his idiosyncratic adjustments surprise rather than offend. Anyone seeking an all-digital Leningrad will be better served by he, Wigglesworth, Polyansky or Ashkenazy than by Masur.

W. Mark Roberts

14_Capriccio 10 780 /

The Execution of Stepan Razin, opus 119[a]; Two Fables after Krylov, opus 4[b]; Intermezzi from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk – 1934 version[c].
Michail Jurowski, Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester, Kölner Rundfunkchor, Godfried Ritter (choirmaster)[a], Helmuth Froschauer (choirmaster)[b], Stanislaw Sulejmanow (bass)[a], Tamara Sinjawskaja (mezzo-soprano)[b].
Capriccio 10 780. DDD. TT 50:07.
Recorded Philharmonie, Köln, 3 – 8 June 1996[a]; 12 – 14 February 1996[b,c].

It eludes this reviewer as to why a Shostakovich masterpiece of the magnitude of Execution of Stepan Razin has remained such a stranger to catalogue and concert hall for the past thirty-seven years. The dramatic strength of this explosive cantata should have earned it a prominence equal to any of the composer’s symphonies. Shostakovich considered it a finer work than the contemporaneous Thirteenth Symphony, with which it shares stylistic and ideological affinities. In the midst of political controversies and speculative revisionism surrounding the composer, it is the one work that should have been a lightning rod for debate about the man behind the music. Yet, for reasons unclear, it remains one of the last of the composer’s great masterworks to be widely disseminated.

From a political standpoint, it is not hard to see why to this day there has emerged only one Russian recording of Stepan Razin. The cantata dates from 1964 and is the second of two Shostakovich works that embrace the politically loaded verses of Yevgeny Yevtushenko. In the Thirteenth Symphony of the previous year, Yevtushenko’s verses were used as explicit criticisms of the Soviet government, raising issues of anti-Semitism, living conditions, and oppression surrounding artist and ordinary citizen. In Stepan Razin, the story of the 17th century folk hero and revolutionary is used to dramatise another hardship all too familiar to the composer, the fate that often befalls those who seek freedom under the oppressive rule of tyrants. Like the Thirteenth Symphony, the authorities sought to hinder its première, and its one-time, thus nominal, appearance in the Melodiya catalogue is an understandable fact of the then prevailing regime.

Unlike Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky, Shostakovich’s cantata does not fall into conventional movement-like subdivisions. Nor are there any extended arias or chorales, and thus, any easily extractable sections that would help to encapsulate or represent the work. Instead, Stepan Razin proceeds as a broad, monolithically unfolding dramatic scene in which there is constant interaction between chorus, bass soloist and orchestra, where common thematic material develops progressively, economically and purposefully toward punctuated climactic peaks. Such an open musical structure insists on being assimilated in no less than its entirety. As an additional challenge, the cantata offers little relief from a sustained state of heightened emotional tension, largely in the form of teeming anger and defiance. It thus places considerable demands on the listener and interpreter, and is certainly not a work for all tastes and tolerances. No wonder so few conductors have dared approach it.

There is something of a take-it-or-leave-it proposition to this music, strong, fierce, uncompromising. The Execution of Stepan Razin comes across like a volcanic eruption straight from the emotional depths of a man whose life and soul, like that of its legendary subject, had been profoundly betrayed. It is a work of enormous lyrical potency and burning conviction, a work quintessentially representative of Shostakovich.

Kondrashin’s première recording of the work on Melodiya in 1965 (reissued in a 6-CD Kondrashin compilation, Lys 568-573) and Rozhdestvensky’s 1966 Proms concert (Intaglio INCD 7371) remain the only Russian recordings on file. Only three other recordings have appeared before the current one. In 1968 Supraphon released a performance with Ladislav Slovak leading the Slovak Philharmonic and Chorus (digitally reissued on Praga PR 254 055 in 1994). Another LP followed on the Philips label in 1973, with Herbert Kegel leading Leipzig forces (reissued on Philips CD 434 172-2 in 1992). A nearly two-decade hiatus was only broken in 1990 with the first digital recording on Koch (3-7017-2 M1), a Bulgarian performance with Andre Andreev conducting the Varna PO.

The relatively recent pressings of Andreev and Slovak are marked by various shortcomings. The Slovak, surprisingly well recorded for its day, contains strong instrumental and ensemble playing, yet loses too much momentum to the typically deliberate tempi preferred by that conductor. Among the Andreev release’s many drawbacks is its thumpy percussion and cramped studio acoustic, with the result that much of the cantata’s essential grandeur is lost.

Each of the remaining three recordings is distinguished by various merits. The Kegel is a passionate account, sumptuously recorded, well shaped, and of the handful, offers the greatest depth of interpretive flexibility. And there is something fundamentally authoritative about Kondrashin’s boldly driven interpretation, though its sonic clarity is the least desirable of the lot.

The current performance, part of Mikhail Jurowski’s distinguished Shostakovich series on Capriccio, surprised these ears with the sheer electricity it generates, matching more closely than its predecessors the driving tempi and cohesive tension of Kondrashin’s classic account. Aggression is an indispensable component of this brutally engaging score, and Jurowski seizes the moment with a raw passion and level of involvement that is admirably empathetic to text and subtext. The brass section breathes the necessary fire, launching the work with a firm statement of the motto theme, and likewise, the series of Hamlet-like (opus 116) staccato hammer blows (Fig. 22+7/8:02) that recur at various points in the score. The Kölner Choir give a crisp, firm performance. The chorus’s chilling series of twenty rising glissandi shrieks starting at Fig. 12/3:55 – a singularly thrilling moment in the choral literature – are notable for bringing the first five minutes of the score to a blood-curdling peak. Slovak and Andreev get considerably less out of this crucial curtain raising section, which proves to be a point measure of overall performance quality.

The tutti passages leading to and including climactic points, such as the execution itself (Fig. 43/18:09), the crest just after the words “I die in vain” (beginning at Fig. 32+7/11:50), and the arrestingly apocalyptic finale, are utterly staggering. The all-important percussion in this highly percussive work sound neither withheld nor overbearing. Their charged performance is always in the moment and meets all expectations.

Central to this performance is bass soloist, Stanislaw Sulejmanow, whose markedly wide vibrato I found distracting in an earlier release of Shostakovich orchestral songs. Here, Sulejmanow rises to the occasion with a take-charge intensity that more than compensates for this mannerism. In fact, we have not had a bass who has brought as much heft and authority to Stepan Razin since Vitaly Gromadsky in the Kondrashin performance. Compare the Bulgarian performance on Koch, in which the more relaxed bass, Assen Vassilev, is situated so close to the microphone that he practically croons away the required declamatory vehemence. Not so here. Sulejmanow’s inflections teem with defiance and outrage, capturing the pungent irony of Razin’s calamitous ordeal as well as eliciting the pathos of the beautiful cantilena passages preceding the execution. He brings to the solo part a drama of arresting necessity, matching with full measure the impassioned force of conductor and chorus.

Two very attractive works whose scarcity is also disproportionate to their merit round out the programme. The operatic sumptuousness of the very early Two Krylov Fables demonstrates how eagerly and naturally prepared was the sixteen year-old composer for stage composition. Rimsky-Korsakov was evidently the model for these comely and resourceful, if slightly arcane, vocal settings. The first song, The Dragonfly and the Ant, is here given a very expressive, idiomatic reading by soprano Tamara Sinjawskaja. Her voice has a more pleasingly rounded tone than Larissa Dyadkova’s on Järvi’s recording of the work on Deutsche Grammophon (439 860-2), if it is not quite as strong as Galina Borisova’s on Rozhdestvensky’s rendition (BMG/Melodiya 74321 59058 2). Compared to Järvi and Rozhdestvensky, Jurowski takes these settings at markedly faster tempo, especially the second and longer setting for soprano and women’s chorus, The Ass and the Nightingale. The latter in this rendition acquires more of a buoyancy and formal intelligibility than in Järvi’s more malleable, atmospheric reading. The women’s voices of the Kölner Choir perform with charm and liveliness.

The Entr’actes from Shostakovich’s most famous opera have received scant few recordings over the years, either individually or as a collected suite. The most recent issues of the suite – one by Maxim Shostakovich on Supraphon (reviewed in DSCH 12) and another by Neeme Järvi, twice issued on Chandos – are drawn from the composer’s 1963 revision, Katerina Izmailova. It is the same version used by the first specialist in DS esoterica, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, in a recording that turned up on Revelation in 1997 (RV10084) and in an elusive recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra at an Edinburgh Festival circa 1960s. For the disc under review, Jurowski has gone back to the original 1934 score of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk to assemble his suite, and may be the first conductor on record to have done so. While the two versions are marked by significant differences elsewhere in the score, the Entr’actes seemed to have emerged in fairly similar form, though subtle differences in orchestration are noticeable (for example, the first statement of the galumphing march tune in the opening Allegretto is played on solo clarinet in the Izmailova versions and by English horn in the Jurowski/Lady Macbeth version). Rather than being toned down, Järvi’s Izmailova rendition with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra takes more liberties with the music’s sarcastic turns, drives the faster numbers with a higher velocity that accentuates their wild edge, and gives a slightly more exciting performance than the one on the current disc. No matter, Jurowski’s Lady Macbeth rendition has plenty of vigour and spunk. He does better than Järvi in the mighty Passacaglia, a well stirred reading that seethes and simmers toward its rousing climax. The boisterous movements have an enthusiastic stride and are well bolstered by the Kölner Orchestra’s strong percussion section. As with the rest of the works on the disc, the recording benefits from clear, well-balanced engineering.

Though Stepan Razin is sung in the original Russian, the texts are provided only in German, French, and an errant English translation of the German that has many points of difference from the Russian text. A phonetic Russian and standard English translation, as the Andreev/Koch issue copies identically from the Kondrashin/Angel-Melodiya release, would have been preferable. A similar offering of non-Russian texts is provided for the Krylov settings, both of which are sung in Russian.

The bleak, icy landscape depicted on the cover photo of this album understates the value and importance of this issue. Jurowski’s Stepan Razin fills a major, long-standing gap in the Shostakovich discography with a performance that is constantly absorbing, completely satisfying, and ultimately overwhelming. Not only is it the peak of Jurowski’s Shostakovich survey on Capriccio, if nominations were being taken, I would place it among the top albums of the year and moreover, the decade. This is as obligatory as recommendations get. It will be interesting to see if other interpreters follow the lead and performance standards set by Jurowski in this indispensable recording.

Louis Blois

14_Le Chant du Monde LDC 77781124 /

Suite on Verses of Michelangelo, opus 145, transcription for bass and organ by Hans Peter Eisenmann §; Passacaglia for organ from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk; Two pieces from Bolt, opus 27; Two pieces from Limpid Stream, opus 39; Boris Tishchenko: D. D. Shostakovich, No. 12 from Twelve Portraits for Organ‡.
Alexander Naoumenko (bass), Herve Desarbre (organ), Alexei Korzoune (timpani).
Le Chant du Monde LDC 77781124. DDD. TT 70:21.
Recorded in concert at the Glinka Museum, Moscow, 24 May 1999.
§ World première recording of transcription.
‡World première recording.

The arrangement of the Michelangelo Verses for organ and bass voice is an inspiration worthy of attention, though this particular realization is a bit of a mixed bag. The organ setting adapts remarkably well to the sombre, funereal tones that characterize many of the eleven contained sonnets, sometimes conferring surprising benefits. The setting of the first song, Truth, is almost too good to be true; its sustained lines and long notes seem better suited to the instrument’s characteristics than to the original piano setting. This is likewise true of the third song, Love, whose quick note filigrees find unexpected new life in the idiosyncratic timbres of the organ. The ninth song, Night, is particularly effective in organ garb, and the chilling return of the leading motif of the work in the tenth song, Death, makes a stunning impact. The final song, with its ominously innocent Beethoven quote, also sits well in the pipes.

Where timbre varies widely from the original, one might have expected a more imaginative exploitation of the various stops of the instrument. A bit of sonic claustrophobia sets in, for example, in the sparse textures of the fourth song, Separation. At other times it is the interpreter who seems to be lacking rather than the arrangement. The dramatic interjections of the accompaniment in the seventh song, To The Exile, lack the impact of the standard versions, and should have elicited more audacious playing on the part of the organist.

The performance also runs into trouble in the fifth song, Anger, whose explosive figures claim their intended fury in the piano and orchestral versions of the work, but here are severely reduced in effectiveness. A similar shortcoming plagues the eighth song, Creativity, whose accentuated percussive attacks need an organist with a greater sense of drama to carry out their full effect. The resulting loss is no small matter. The dramatic contrast of these more volatile songs discharges the latent tension of the surrounding songs. The former not only provide necessary counterbalance, they serve the more important aesthetic function of defining the suite’s overall emotional intensity.

There are clearly moments of revelation in this unique rendition, particularly in the outer songs where subdued timbre and mood predominate. The recital is well recorded, and the reverberant, never cavernous, church-like acoustic is appropriate to the work’s lofty lyricism. Yet the whole does not equal the sum of its parts. Its shortcomings obviously lie somewhere between performance and transcription, and to a certain degree, in the overextended scope of the composition itself.

Bass Alexander Naoumenko sings with admirable focus and conviction. He is a preferable choice to Fischer-Dieskau’s baritone in his recordings of the composer’s orchestration of the work on London (433 319-2) and of the original piano arrangement on Teldec (8 44138; sung in Italian), and a strong competitor to Sergei Leiferkus in Järvi’s rendition of the orchestral version on Deutsche Grammophon (447 085-2). Naoumenko’s expressiveness, however, is often unmatched by organist Herve Desarbre, whose pacing is often mechanical, and whose participation lacks the necessary vibrancy, especially in the middle handful of songs that require more engaging accompaniment.

The solo organ works of Shostakovich on the disc further confirm Desarbre’s lack of idiomatic grasp of this music. He fails to make a convincing case in his bone dry, matter-of-fact reading of the Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, a rendition that pales next to the full blooded version by Maria Makarova on the quintessential disc of Shostakovich’s solo organ music, Olympia OCD 585.

The remaining Shostakovich works on the programme consist of four short miniatures taken from the composer’s ballet scores Bolt and Limpid Stream. Aside from the insipid musical quality of these Atovmyan-derived trifles, Desarbre’s account could have been dispatched with more wit and playfulness.

The other major work on the disc is D. D. Shostakovich, the last of Twelve Organ Portraits by one of Shostakovich’s favourite composition students, Boris Tishchenko. Such an auspicious title leads one to higher expectations than are met in this boisterous 12-minute tour-de-force. The material all seems to derive from the elder composer’s four-note monogram, and consists of dissonant flourishes, fugal episodes, and passages of frenzied physical gesture that alternate in a careening, timpani-reinforced bustle. While it works up a lather of sustained activity, none of its ideas achieves enough thematic distinction to give direction or profile to this meandering portrait.

The only evidence of an audience during these live performances is the applause that springs up after each work. Therein lies a small blemish. The applause is spliced in without sufficient pause, robbing the music’s final notes of their natural breathing room. The intrusion is most out of place in the wake of the final, reflective bars of the Michelangelo suite. On a more important note, I hope one day we get to sample the outcome of this promising version of the Michelangelo suite with an organist, perhaps Maria Makarova, who has a stronger connection to the idiom than found here. In the meantime, the curious and the completist will be intrigued by the novelty and variety of this album. The rest may move on.

Louis Blois

14_le chant /

Shostakovich 25th Anniversary Edition
Le Chant du Monde.

15 discs, only available separately.

It was an astute marketing move on the part of Le Chant du Monde to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Shostakovich’s death with a re-release of recordings from their Praga and Saison Russe subsidiaries, at reduced price. Many of these had been released just months earlier in other guises, including the organ works CD reviewed above by Louis Blois (which remains indexed as LDC 77781124), and all of the Shostakovich recordings in the Mravinsky in Prague boxed set reviewed in DSCH 13 (Praga PR 256016.19). Fortunately, the Anniversary Edition discs are sold individually, so the consumer can pick and choose which ones to purchase and thus avoid unnecessary duplication of recordings already owned in a previous incarnation.

Although one cannot buy the Anniversary Edition’s 15 individual CDs as a boxed set, each jewel case is packaged in a cardboard slipcase bearing a consistent graphic design: Shostakovich’s head from none other than the DSCH Journal’s own logo, rendered in black on red! Lest I be accused of conflict of interest in preparing these reviews, I hasten to add that DSCH is neither sponsor nor beneficiary of the Anniversary Edition – indeed, we were unaware of Le Chant du Monde’s design until we received an advance brochure for the set. The company’s former director, Philippe Engammare, told me that he obtained the image from Emmanuel Utwiller, Secretary of the Centre Chostakovitch in Paris. We are happy to see it escape the confines of our pages!

Each slipcase is also highlighted by a different image of Shostakovich, including many delightful photographs given to Le Chant du Monde by Irina Shostakovich from the family archive. The booklets, however, are carried over from the previous releases, with new front-cover graphics to match the slipcase but no other changes; their documentation still refers to the original cover art, no longer present. There is no new literature for the Edition as a whole. The 25th Anniversary Edition is decidedly a mixed bag, as the reviews below reveal.

NOTE: Since this review was written, several of the recordings reissued in this 25th Anniversary Edition have been identified as being reproductions of original recordings made in Russia and Vienna, not Prague. In some of these pressings, audience noises have been added to the original studio recordings. For reference purposes, my reviews are reproduced below unedited, but some of my comments have been invalidated by this discovery. Full details are contained in my report in DSCH 15 on misattributed recordings on the Praga label. WMR.


14_Saison Russe RUS 7288088 /

Shostakovich 25th Anniversary Edition
Piano Trio No. 1, opus 8; Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, opus 67; Seven songs on poems by Alexander Blok, for soprano, piano, violin and cello, opus 127[a].
The Moscow Trio: Alexander Bonduriansky (piano), Vladimir Ivanov (violin), Mikhail Utkin (cello); Natalia Gerassimova (soprano)[a].
Saison Russe RUS 7288088. DDD. TT 71:51.
Recorded Moscow Conservatory, 28-30 September & 30 November 1993.

Unlike the majority of volumes in the 25th Anniversary Edition, this is a modern recording, and as such competes with a dauntingly large number of all-digital releases rather than with historical performances like the Oistrakh Trio’s version of Piano Trio No. 2, reviewed below. The programme is identical to that on a recent Hungaroton disc reviewed in DSCH 13 (HCD 31780).

The Moscow Trio take a brisk jaunt through the First Trio’s fairy-tale opening, with angular articulation in the single-movement work’s modernist sections. By a hair, I award the medal to the Bartos Trio on Hungaroton, who are just a shade sweeter in the more Impressionistic passages, and ever so slightly more sure-footed rhythmically. Still, the Moscow Trio turn in an enjoyable performance. There is only a very narrow range of desirability among the many available recordings of this lightweight opus, with little basis for preferring one to another. Selection of one Trio disc or another will most likely be based on what else is on the menu.

On the present disc, the deciding variable is the Second Trio, which opens promisingly as a plaintive murmur before plunging in fearlessly. Mikhail Utkin’s cello contribution is outstanding, especially his flawless sounding of multiple stops (listen to the opening and close of the movement). In this movement, all three players exhibit greater tonal robustness and rhythmic flexibility than displayed in the First Trio.

One senses a leash restraining the second movement, as if its impulses to flight are being thwarted. This sensation of being grounded is reinforced by the heavy stress that Utkin and Vladimir Ivanov place on the first notes of the many descending two-note cells that the score demands be slurred on a single up-bow. This has the effect of anchoring the second notes.

It takes a few hearings for the logic of the Moscow Trio’s interpretation of the third movement to become apparent, for it is driven in what initially seems too low a gear. On repeated auditions, however, this becomes appreciated as a way to create a large enough volume to contain the heart-rending emotions within. Furthermore, the players invest the lament with enough impetus to keep it moving forward. The Moscow Trio tell the tale of a traumatised survivor, grief arising from remembrance of past rather than present events. They reduce their tempo from the muted climax of the movement to its end, but this effect is applied so gradually that it is only perceptible as exhaustion.

Similarly, most of the final movement seems too slow at first, but greater familiarity with the performance brings acceptance, as the slow tempos pave the way for an accelerando into the penultimate repetition of the Jewish “dance of death” theme, which feels claustrophobic. We return to the plodding gait for the final repetition of the theme, which the Moscow Trio now hammer out so brutally that you can practically see the stomping jackboots.

This is a carefully laid-out account, offering a different viewpoint than any of its competitors. It is a viewpoint deserving of repeated hearing, and I will be taking it off the shelf often, even though it does not displace my top recommendation, the Vienna Piano Trio’s transcendent performance on Nimbus (NI 5572, reviewed in DSCH 11).

A fine performance of the Blok Songs makes this an even more attractive release. Natalia Gerassimova’s smooth intonation is ravishing in the opening Ophelia’s Song, whereas her fiery-eyed shrieking of Gamayun, bird of prophecy is truly terrifying; the two cats who live with me flee the room in panic whenever I play this track! Gerassimova’s voice possesses a silvery gloss as compared with Galina Vishnevskaya’s brassy timbre on BMG/Melodiya (74321 53237 2). In this, Gerassimova is similar to Hungaroton’s Maria Aszodi. Indeed, the two younger singers are quite evenly matched in this work, especially in the violent songs Gamayun and The Storm. Perhaps Gerassimova’s sadness in We Were Together and Secret Signs is more resigned, Aszodi’s emotions being felt more keenly. Except in the final song, Music, Gerassimova also admits less vibrato, while her singing of The Town Sleeps has an aristocratic beauty to it, differing from Aszodi’s earthier rendition. The Moscow Trio provide responsive support throughout.

The notes give English and French translations of the Blok Songs, but not the original Russian. Despite that weakness, this release is a valuable addition to the discography, and is now a real bargain at the reissue’s asking price.


14_Praga PR 7254042 /

Shostakovich 25th Anniversary Edition
String Quartet No. 1 in C major, opus 49[a] ; Piano Quintet in G minor, opus 57[b]; String Quartet No. 2 in A major, opus 68[c].
Talich Quartet[a,b]: Petr Messiereur, Jan Kvapil (violins), Jan Talich (viola), Evzen Rattay (cello); String Quartet of Georgia[c]: Konstantin Vardeli, Tamaz Batiashvili (violins), Nodar Zhvania (viola), Otar Chubinishvili (cello); Miroslav Langer (piano)[c].
Praga PR 7254042. ADD stereo. TT 74:55.
Recorded live[a,c]; studio[b] by Czech Radio, Prague, September 1976[a,b]; 6 June 1981[c].

Shostakovich started writing his First String Quartet at the end of May 1938, just three weeks after the birth of his son, Maxim. The quartet’s original subtitle was Springtime, and the Talich Quartet’s performance is appropriately vernal, imparting a real sense of renewal. The playing is of very high quality, with robust tone that is put to good use in the surprisingly hefty final movement. The live audience are not too bothersome, and the recorded sound is quite decent considering the circumstances.

The String Quartet of Georgia turn in a committed performance of the Second Quartet. Though they are not so polished as the Talich, sometimes homing in upon their notes or only approximating them, such sins are venial rather than cardinal in the context of a live performance such as this. The audience are unobtrusive. Sadly, the same cannot be said of an overlaid audio signal running in the background, presumably cross-talk from some other radio programme. This is only faintly audible, but enough to be a real nuisance during quiet passages at any realistic volume setting. The second movement, Recitative and Romance, is worst marred by this, for playing in the background is a female pop singer of dubious talent, followed by a rather dull news announcer! The coup de grace for this pivotal movement is delivered by episodes of freakish digital silence interrupting the analogue hiss in rests at 3:29 and 3:49. Talking heads and singers intrude in the other movements too. The intensity of the performance cannot rescue this recording from its bizarre accompaniment.

Fortunately, however, the Piano Quintet sandwiched between the two quartets does rescue the disc. From the fast-driven first movement, Miroslav Langer is unreservedly expressive on piano, and the Talich Quartet are equally impassioned. The unguarded emotions of this reading are decidedly dark, even in the frenetic third movement where the players’ imaginative but judicious infusion of rubato yields syncopated sarcasm rather than the usual jollity. Even higher praise is earned in the second movement, Fugue, where skilful mood-handling constructs a self-sufficient emotional tour. The Czech players open and close the movement with depressive wistfulness, framing a near-hysterical outburst in the centre. The recording’s reverb around the piano’s notes reinforces the hollow sensation that the players create in the fourth movement, here telling of insupportable bereavement. A swift final movement never sounds unnaturally rushed, and while all players do a wonderful job, first violinist Petr Messiereur deserves special mention for his fluency and accuracy. The analogue studio recording need feel no shame in digital company. All in all, this is one of the most compelling versions of the Quintet available, and wins the disc a solid recommendation to anyone willing to overlook the problems with the Second Quartet.


14_Praga PR 7254054 /

Shostakovich 25th Anniversary Edition
String Quartet No. 3 in F major, opus 73[a]; Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, opus 67[b]; String Quartet No. 4 in D, opus 83[c].
Glinka String Quartet[a]: Alexander Arenkov, Sergei Pishchugin (violins), Misha Geller (viola), Dmitri Ferschman (cello); Oistrakh Trio[b]: Lev Oborin (piano), David Oistrakh (violin), Sviatoslav Knushevitsky (cello); Taneyev Quartet[c]: Vladimir Ovcharek, Grigori Lutski (violins), Vissarion Solovyov (viola), Iosif Levinzon (cello).
Praga PR 7254054. ADD stereo[a,c]; mono[b]. TT 79:10.
Czech Radio Broadcasts, Prague 23 August 1977[a]; live 26 May 1961[b]; 9 September 1976[c].

A generous helping of nourishing performances fills this issue. In Quartet No. 3, the Glinka Quartet eschew dazzling the ear in favour of sober exposition. If the first movement’s flourishes sound a trifle prosaic, one cannot fault the players for letting the score speak for itself. The snail’s pace of the next movement is potentially more controversial; I find that the proceedings bog down, but others may sense increased gravity. This certainly does provide more contrast than usual to the martial march of the third movement, especially since that too is on the slow side in this account. The clear-eyed Adagio that follows is also slow to the point of stalling, but the last movement impresses with its seriousness.

Although registered before an audience who don’t always manage to conceal their respiratory afflictions, the rich mono recording of the Second Piano Trio cleanly exposes the three soloists – cruelly so in the con sordina opening of the work, where Sviatoslav Knushevitsky’s bow repeatedly skitters off the correct notes. He is thereafter up to the high standards of his illustrious colleagues, contributing to a dazzling first movement. A genuinely sunny, bouncing second movement is followed by a slow, weepy third. The last movement is ploughed with vigour, its “dance of death” more defiant than panic-stricken. An interesting touch is Oistrakh and Knushevitsky’s slowly arpeggiated pizzicato quadruple stops at the very end. This is an engrossing recital, and while its occasional roughness rules it out as a main attraction, its presence on the disc is welcome.

The Taneyev Quartet supply a Fourth Quartet that is at once polished and fresh, confronting the listener with pure musical argument. Tempos sound instinctively “right”, and one very soon forgets about the music-making process. Take, for example, the patient unfolding of the second movement, Andantino, in which the Taneyevs are so fully absorbed that they fix the listener’s attention from wandering too. It is a pity that from time to time in the first movement the recording balks at the Taneyevs’ powerful utterance, for the acoustics are otherwise praiseworthy.

NOTE: Since this review was written, I have identified the recording on this CD of the String Quartet No. 4 played by the Taneyev Quartet as being a reproduction of an original recording made in Russia, not Prague. For reference purposes, my review is reproduced unedited, but the recording venue and date data above, as listed by Praga, are incorrect. Full details are contained in my report in DSCH 15 on misattributed recordings on the Praga label. WMR.


14_Praga PR 7250077 /

Shostakovich 25th Anniversary Edition
String Quartet No. 5 in Bb major, opus 92[a]; String Quartet No. 6 in G major, opus 101[b]; String Quartet No. 7 in F# minor, opus 108[c].
Taneyev Quartet[a,c]: Vladimir Ovcharek, Grigori Lutski (violins), Vissarion Solovyov (viola), Iosif Levinzon (cello); Beethoven Quartet[b]: Dmitri Tsyganov, Nikolai Zabavnikov (violins), Fyodor Druzhinin (viola), Yevgeny Altman (cello).
Praga PR 7250077. ADD stereo[a,c]; mono[b]. TT 68:20.
Listed as Czech Radio Broadcasts, 1 September 1977[a]; 22 August 1977[b]; 9 September 1976[c].

The provenance of the Fifth Quartet on this issue is dubious, as the documentation speaks only of broadcast and gives no recording venue. Pops, regularly repeating clicks, and what sounds like spinning-platter swish convince me that it is transferred from an LP. The Hulme Catalogue lists a Melodiya LP set of the Taneyev Quartet in this opus, but issued in 1980, after the broadcast date given in Praga’s notes. I don’t detect the presence of an audience, so it remains possible that this was originally a commercial studio recording.

This uncertainty is not grounds for automatic disqualification, but the signal here is prone to overloading, making listening tough going. The Taneyevs are rather hectoring in their Fifth Quartet, and I found myself wishing for more expressive variety. My ears were tired by the end of the first movement, and in the second the Taneyevs’ strings never create the ethereal shimmer that is necessary for its eerie meditation. The sauntering first subject of the third movement could also benefit from a lighter touch.

The Beethoven Quartet’s Sixth Quartet recital is rather dour, shunning opportunities to lighten the mood. Some may appreciate it as an expertly-performed, straightforward reading of the text, but to me it sounds like a rehash of material whose familiarity has bred ennui. For the live concert that it seems to be, the players sound surprisingly stand-offish.

Happily, the Seventh Quartet is more engaging right from its impetuous opening gestures. The first movement is whipped off with abandon. Of even greater interest is the Taneyev Quartet’s striking use of rubato in the middle Lento, where application of the brakes results in the listener sinking into cloying quicksand.

As with the Fifth Quartet, there is audible evidence that the Seventh Quartet recording is transferred from an LP, and perhaps the same LP set; both have very similar acoustics. Detective work is in order. Even were its paternity known with assurance, however, this issue would not win too enthusiastic a thumbs-up.

NOTE: Since this review was written, I have identified the recordings on this CD of the String Quartet No. 5 played by the Taneyev Quartet and the String Quartet No. 6 by the Beethoven Quartet as being reproductions of original recordings made in Russia, not Prague. For reference purposes, my review is reproduced unedited, but the recording venue and date data above, as listed by Praga, are incorrect. Full details are contained in my report in DSCH 15 on misattributed recordings on the Praga label. WMR.


14_Praga PR 7254043 /

Shostakovich 25th Anniversary Edition
String Quartet No. 14 in F# major, opus 142[a]; String Quartet No. 15 in Eb minor, opus 144[b].
Glinka String Quartet[a]: Alexander Arenkov, Sergei Pishchugin (violins), Misha Geller (viola), Dmitri Ferschman (cello); Beethoven Quartet[b]: Dmitri Tsyganov, Nikolai Zabavnikov (violins), Fyodor Druzhinin (viola), Yevgeny Altman (cello).
Praga PR 7254043. ADD stereo[a]; mono[b]. TT 64:00.
Recorded by Czech Radio, Prague 23 August 1977[a]; 18 October 1976[b].

Two uncompromising recitals make this a desirable entry, the more so following the departure from the catalogue of the Beethoven Quartet’s powerful Fifteenth Quartet recording from 1975, released in 1994 on Consonance (81-3006).

The Glinka Quartet’s Fourteenth Quartet is a Dostoyevskian tale of existential questing. Their strings speak in richly nuanced, accurate, and almost impossibly weighty tones. This is captured in a clean but extreme stereo that situates the musicians at the edges of the soundstage, to dramatic effect in the third movement where they volley the melodic line back and forth between right and left speakers.

The Glinka Quartet played Tchaikovsky at Shostakovich’s civic funeral two years before this recording, and disbanded the next year due to the emigration to the Netherlands of their viola player and cellist. It is valuable to have this documentation of a successful partnership.

A greyer Quartet No. 15 than the one on offer here would be hard to imagine. Surely this owes something to the fateful connections between this specific opus and the team delivering it. Alone among Shostakovich’s quartets from No. 2 onwards, No. 15 was not premièred by the Beethoven Quartet, that honour falling to the Taneyev Quartet at the Leningrad Composers’ Club on 25 October 1974. The Beethovens were originally slated to handle the première, and had rehearsed the work on the morning of 18 October. Later that day, however, Sergei Shirinsky, their original cellist and dedicatee of Quartet No. 14, died unexpectedly. With Yevgeny Altman replacing Shirinsky, the reconstituted Beethoven Quartet gave the Fifteenth’s first Moscow performance on 11 January 1975. The composer died just seven months later without ever hearing his final work, the Viola Sonata that he had dedicated to the Beethoven Quartet’s viola player, Fyodor Druzhinin.

The atmosphere of this reading is oppressive, death permeating its thirty-seven minute duration – you can practically taste it. Gun-metal grey is the only tint admitted. Within that limitation, the players are expressive of a range of shadings, from stark brooding to screaming anguish. The Beethovens maintain a pace that never stagnates, and are intimately coordinated; there is no trace of any seam between Altman and his longer-entwined companions.

The Fifteenth Quartet recording bears much more analogue hiss than its disc-mate, but the ear rapidly adjusts. Judging by the odd stifled cough it appears to be a live recording, though the notes do not indicate this. The acoustics do not mask the power of the performance, which is both historically and musically indispensable.

NOTE: Since this review was written, I have identified the recording on this CD of the String Quartet No. 15 played by the Beethoven Quartet as being a reproduction of an original recording made in Russia, not Prague. For reference purposes, my review is reproduced unedited, but the recording venue and date data above, as listed by Praga, are incorrect. Full details are contained in my report in DSCH 15 on misattributed recordings on the Praga label. WMR.


14_Praga PR 7250052 /

Shostakovich 25th Anniversary Edition
Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
Yevgeny Mravinsky, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, David Oistrakh (violin)[a]; Sir Charles Mackerras, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, Jirí Tomásek (violin)[b].
Praga PR 7250052. ADD mono[a]; stereo[b]. TT 65:10.
Czech Radio Broadcasts, live May 1957[a]; February 1982[b].

I reviewed the present performance of the First Violin Concerto, an entry in Mravinsky in Prague, in DSCH 13 (it also appears in Praga’s 6-CD set, David Oistrakh in Prague, PR 256007). Perhaps I was a little too harsh in my criticisms of its performance and recording qualities, for while neither is impeccable, the latter is not so bad that it renders the former unlistenable, nor does the performance now seem quite as aloof as I found it previously. Not a front-runner, then, but also not last of the pack.

The much more recent recording of the Second Concerto is even easier to recommend. Mackerras extracts the same clean yet emphatic sonority from his Prague players as heard in so many of his recordings of the Czech repertoire. There is a genuine dialogue between Tomásek and the orchestra, and, indeed, between sections within the orchestra, indicating extensive preparation by all concerned. As for the Czech cellist’s solo work, he is everywhere impressive, and nothing short of breathtaking in the last movement’s lengthy cadenza. While the orchestral playing is not as virtuosic as Tomásek’s, both are admirably error-free given that this is a live recording. The audience intrudes only minimally, and it is a great pity that we aren’t allowed to hear their appreciation of such a fine performance – dead space follows swiftly after the last note. The recording transmits powerful bass without strain.


14_Saison Russe RUS 788105 /

Shostakovich 25th Anniversary Edition
The Young Lady and the Hooligan, ballet adapted by Lev Atovmyan.
Mark Gorenstein, Symphonic Orchestra of Russia.
Saison Russe RUS 788105. DDD. TT 52:20.
Recorded Mosfilm studios, Moscow, 28 June – 1 July 1994.

Here we have the Shostakovich ballet that Shostakovich never wrote. True, the music derives from various of the composer’s works: The Bolt, The Limpid Stream, The Gadfly, even the Cello Sonata. (The notes to this reissue would be improved by a more comprehensive linking of the ballet’s numbers to the source opuses.) It was Lev Atovmyan, not Shostakovich, however, who selected these pieces for a ballet staged in 1962 at the Malegot Theatre in Leningrad. Shostakovich consented to this use of his music, and I imagine that he would have been tickled by the outcome.

The plot of The Young Lady and the Hooligan is based on a film script by Vladimir Mayakovsky. Our protagonist is a violent young thug, whose base nature is conveyed by his theme, pulled from No. 3 in The Bolt suite – this is no less ebullient in Gorenstein’s hands than is the original in Rozhdestvensky’s (see below). One day the hooligan encounters a young schoolmistress, and falls in love at first sight. When the hooligan’s own gang assaults the teacher, the hooligan comes to her aid. His gang sets upon him, and he dies in the teacher’s arms.

It should be said that Atovmyan does not merely transplant existing music into the ballet. Major modifications are made to scoring and tempo to suit the needs of the ballet. The most extreme example of this concerns the transfiguration of the hooligan by first love, a process portrayed by an orchestration of the second theme of the Cello Sonata’s first movement (from Fig. 6-2 to Fig. 9+7 in the Sonata’s score). Atovmyan draws this out to an eyebrow-raising duration; what lasts just two minutes in Shostakovich’s recording with Daniil Shafran is extended to over four minutes of soul cleansing in the ballet!

While nobody will claim this to be grand or even premier cru Shostakovich, neither is The Young Lady and the Hooligan deserving of contempt for its parentage. It offers an enjoyable mixture of stirring melodies, like the Romance from The Gadfly (still most recognisable to many as the theme of the TV series Reilly, Ace of Spies), jolly light music and boisterous noisemaking. Atovmyan’s selections are evocative of the action in the ballet, making it possible to stage a production in the mind’s eye while listening.

Gorenstein and his fine orchestra certainly take this music seriously, playing with great drama, power and sensitivity. The acoustics are natural and the dynamic range wide. This release should please anyone interested in hearing just how adaptable Shostakovich’s voice can be to new contexts.


14_Praga PR 7250090 /

Shostakovich 25th Anniversary Edition
Two Pieces from Scarlatti, opus 17[a]; Symphony No. 4 in C minor, opus 43[b].
Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, Wind Section of the USSR State Symphony Orchestra[a]; USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra[b].
Praga PR 7250090. ADD. TT 73:40.
Listed as Czech Radio Broadcasts, 7 July 1981[a]; 28 May 1985[b].

If the Fourth Symphony presented here is not in fact Rozhdestvensky’s Melodiya studio recording (MCD 156, reissued on Melodiya two-fer 74321-63462-2) with a live-audience track superimposed, then the conductor must keep a metronome at his podium! When the two pressings are played simultaneously, Praga’s cough-ridden performance tracks perfectly alongside the studio version for many minutes at a stretch, far longer than should be humanly possible. Over time one gains very slightly on the other, but minor variation in transfer speed is not uncommon in Eastern bloc pressings, so this does not prove that the two have different sources. The track lengths are identical for the second movement, and timing differences for the outer tracks can be attributed to dead air and applause.

One might counter that close similarities are only to be expected, since the recording year given for both performances is the same. But would, for instance, the violins and cellos be able to deliver twice such uncannily similar semiquaver chases in the first movement’s Presto (Fig. 63, indexed on Praga by the start of a new track)? Would one of the trumpet players fracture the same note in exactly the same way at Fig. 243-5 of the last movement (15:47 on Praga; 22:18 on Melodiya, who do not give a new track to the Allegretto)?

Another thing: the skeletal rattles on woodblocks, castanets and snare drum that close the second movement take precedence over the whispered violin melody in both versions, to an identical degree. I suspect that Rozhdestvensky would have added at least some emphasis to the string line to compensate for the white noise of a live audience if one had really been present.

The clincher is that with the two versions running in synchrony at the end of the first and second movements, the performers start playing the following movement at precisely the same time, even though on Praga the gap at the beginning of the next track is filled with coughs and rustling. That’s just too large a coincidence for me to swallow.

Not having to hand the BMG/Melodiya two-fer with the Scarlatti Pieces (74321-59058-2), I cannot comment on the source of Praga’s coupling, but no audience is in evidence. These are the 22-year-old Shostakovich’s transcriptions for winds and timpani of harpsichord works by Domenico Scarlatti. Written at the request of Nikolai Malko, they were premièred on 25 November 1928 by the conductor at a Moscow concert that also hosted the first performances of Tahiti Trot and the suite from The Nose.

The Scarlatti Pieces are neo-Classical bonbons that would surely have delighted Stravinsky. The first piece, Pastorale, uses no brass, and has a warm glow. I find its bassoon trills especially endearing. The second piece, Capriccio, is more impish, with hints of “Three Blind Mice”, and its trombone slides are redolent of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. Both are played with sly good humour by the USSR SSO’s wind section and timpanist.

Even if Praga’s source for these recordings is as they claim, there is no reason to put up with audience noise in the symphony when the indistinguishable Melodiya performance comes with clean (albeit bizarrely balanced) acoustics. Le Chant du Monde have been informed of my suspicions, and I expect to be able to report the results of their investigation in DSCH No. 15. In the meantime, give this reissue a wide berth.

NOTE: Since this review was written, I have confirmed my suspicion that the recording on this CD of the Two Pieces from Scarlatti is a reproduction of an original recording made in Russia, not Prague. For reference purposes, my review is reproduced unedited, but the recording venue and date data above, as listed by Praga, are incorrect. As explained below, the recording of the Fourth Symphony on this reissue is also misidentified. Full details are contained in my report in DSCH 15 on misattributed recordings on the Praga label.



14_PR 7250085 /
14_PR 7254017 /
14_PR 7254018 /

Shostakovich 25th Anniversary Edition
Symphony No. 9 in Eb major, opus 70[a]; Symphony No. 5 in D minor, opus 47[b].
Zdenek Kosler, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra[a]; Yevgeny Mravinsky, Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra[b].
PR 7250085. ADD stereo. TT 68:05.
Recorded live Dvorak Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, 13 March 1981[a]; 26 May 1967[b].

Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op 54[a]; Symphony No. 12, opus 112, The Year 1917[b].
Yevgeny Mravinsky, Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra.
PR 7254017. ADD mono. TT 65:51.
Recorded live Prague, 21 May 1955[a]; 6 January 1962[b].

Symphony No. 11 in G minor, opus 103.
Yevgeny Mravinsky, Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra.
PR 7254018. ADD mono. TT 60:49.
Recorded live Prague, 3 June 1967.

With the exception of that of the Ninth, all of these symphony recordings appeared in the Mravinsky in Prague edition reviewed in our last issue; the Eleventh also turned up in DSCH 9 in an even earlier Praga incarnation. They all merit hearing.

Former Karel Ancerl student Zdenek Kosler’s view of the Ninth Symphony is new to these pages, replacing the Mravinsky in Prague set’s excellent Bartok Concerto for Orchestra as stable-mate of the Fifth Symphony. A few conspicuously mistaken notes aside, it is a nimble traversal of this quirky terrain. Listen in particular for fine brass playing. The 1981 recording is clear and nicely balanced, and the audience is tolerable.

Kosler expands the fourth movement, Largo, to epic lengths, a common practice that is reportedly contrary to Shostakovich’s intention. It thus gains some of the icy grandeur of the Sixth Symphony’s first movement. Any irony lost in the process is more than compensated for by the following movement, which Kosler and the Czech Philharmonic toss off flippantly. Annotator Pierre-E. Barbier puts it well when he writes that Slavic interpreters are “not fooled by a Shostakovich parodying himself: Kubelik, Ancerl and, more recently, Kosler, have rendered its [the symphony’s] tragic ambiguity”. Few readers, I wager, would begrudge this CD shelf space.

NOTE: Since this review was written, the recordings of Symphonies Nos. 5, 6, 11 and 12 reissued in this 25th Anniversary Edition have been identified as being reproductions of original recordings made in Vienna and Russia, not Prague. In the Eleventh and Twelfth Symphonies, audience noises have been added to the original studio recordings. For reference purposes, my review is reproduced below unedited, but the recording venue and date data above, as listed by Praga, are incorrect. Full details are contained in my report in DSCH  15 on misattributed recordings on the Praga label. WMR.


14_Praga PR 7250053 /

Shostakovich 25th Anniversary Edition
The Bolt, Symphonic Suite, opus 27a, Nos. 1, 2, 5, 3[a]; Symphony No. 10 in E minor, opus 93[b].
Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra[a]; Yevgeny Mravinsky, Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra[b].
Praga PR 7250053. ADD stereo[a]; mono[b]. TT 63:37.

Recorded live Smetana Hall, Prague 7 January 1983[a]; 3 June 1955[b].

The Czech players have a jolly old time with these swaggering numbers from The Bolt, and the live audience is appreciative enough to contain most of their contributions to the intervals between numbers and to their ovation. The recording is full-bodied, not surprisingly given its relatively recent vintage.

Running to less than 13 minutes, though, these extracts from The Bolt do not a main course make, and the mono Tenth Symphony is unappetising. This is no slur against Mravinsky’s hair-raising interpretation or the Leningrad Philharmonic’s white-hot delivery. The performance is undeniably transfixing. Still, more accurate playing, better recorded can be heard in the same team’s 1976 document appearing on a comparably priced BMG/Melodiya CD (74321 25198 2) which also boasts a devastating Sixth Symphony. The engineering on the present disc shows its age, and the Prague audience should do an ad for Vicks. This release is for completists only.


14_Saison Russe RUS 7799115 /
14_Saison Russe RUS 7788164 /

Shostakovich 25th Anniversary Edition
The Gamblers, unfinished opera.
Andrey Chistiakov, Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, Nicolai Kurpe (ten), Nikolai Rechetniak (bar), Alexander Arkhipov (ten), Mikhail Krutikov (bass), Viatcheslav Pochapski (bass), Pyotr Gluboky (bass).
Saison Russe RUS 7799115. DDD.

Suite for Variety Orchestra (mislabelled as Jazz Suite No. 2; extracts); Dance from The Limpid Stream; Spanish Dance from The Gadfly; The Young Lady and the Hooligan (extracts); Child’s Notebook (extracts); Ballet Suite No. 1.
Mark Gorenstein, Symphonic Orchestra of Russia; Arnold Katz, Novosibirsk Philharmonic Orchestra; Rimma Bobritskaya (piano).
Saison Russe RUS 7788164. DDD.

These two discs were reviewed in their previous releases in DSCH 9 and 12, respectively, so will not be reappraised in depth here. The Chistiakov Gamblers remains a desirable acquisition despite the subsequent reappearance of Gennadi Rozhdestvensky’s première recording on BMG/Melodiya.

The compilation disc of light music dredged from other LCdM releases is less appealing, for its programme is low in diversity, repeating the same music in different instrumentations and offering similar-sounding extracts from the suites. Much more variety would have been obtained using different selections. The seeker of Shostakovich’s lighter side is better served by Riccardo Chailly’s Jazz Music and Dance albums on Decca (433 702 and 452 597, respectively), and with Constantine Orbelian’s new Shostakovich Waltzes compilation reviewed above.

W. Mark Roberts