SCHUBERT [arr. MAHLER]: Death and the Maiden; SHOSTAKOVICH [orch. Barshai]: Chamber Symphony in c – Roman Simovic & LSO String Ensemble – LSO Live

by | May 20, 2016 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

SCHUBERT [arr. MAHLER]: Death and the Maiden; SHOSTAKOVICH [orch. Barshai]: Chamber Symphony in c – Roman Simovic & LSO String Ensemble – LSO Live multichannel 5.1 LSO0786 TT: 66:28 (3/11/16) ****:

A stunning performance and recording of these two transcriptions of Schubert and Shostakovich.

The LSO Live label offers us an interesting disc of string quartets transcribed for a larger string ensemble, the Schubert by none other than Gustav Mahler, who loved the quartet and wanted to expand its sound.

Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet, heard here in Mahler’s arrangement, was passed over in Schubert’s lifetime, the quartet has become a staple of the quartet repertoire.The original Quartet was written soon after Schubert had suffered from a significant period of illness, including syphilis, and some have speculated that it is the composer’s testament to his own death. The piece gains its title from the second movement, which is a set of five variations based on the melody of one of Schubert’s most poignant songs, Death and the Maiden, in which a girl struggles against the terror of impending death, that ‘grisly man of bone’, who casts himself as a welcome friend.

Then we get the Shostakovich Chamber Symphony in c, an arrangement for string orchestra of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8, prepared with the composer’s approval by the violist, conductor, and founder of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Rudolf Barshai. Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet was written over just three days in 1960 and the composer, deeply depressed at that time, initially intended it to be his last work. The piece is full of quotations that hold a deeply personal significance, including a motif from Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony, and references to several of Shostakovich’s own works. Perhaps most interestingly, Shostakovich’s initials ‘DSCH’ are embedded throughout the work, giving the piece an intensely personal musical notation.

I liked listening to the transcriptions very much. I’d heard the Schubert on many occasions as a string quartet piece, but was not as familiar with the Shostakovich in any form.

The 5.1 SACD layer is very involving with a crisp and enthusiastic performance by the LSO String Ensemble led by Roman Simovic. Recorded at the Barbican in London, the surrounds provide hall ambiance, while the front speakers do the heavy lifting, providing a stable musical image.

Musically, the two pieces are a good pairing, with similar ideas even though the style of music between Schubert and Shostakovich is quite different. This is a a worthwhile disc, with a high score for repeat listens. Well-played, and well-recorded.

—Mel Martin

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