* SHOSTAKOVICH: String Quartets Nos. 2 and 4, arranged for Chamber Orchestra – Amsterdam Sinfonietta /Candida Thompson, artistic leader – Channel Classics

by | Mar 1, 2008 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

SHOSTAKOVICH: String Quartets Nos. 2 and 4, arranged for Chamber Orchestra – Amsterdam Sinfonietta /Candida Thompson, artistic leader – Channel Classics Multichannel SACD CCS SA 26007, 63 min. ***** [Distr. by Harmonia Mundi]:

Most everyone is intimately familiar with Russian conductor Rudolph Barshai’s transcriptions of Shostakovich’s String Quartets for chamber symphony. In January I reviewed another excellent disc of Barshai transcriptions on the Talent label featuring the Rotterdam Chamber Orchestra – these Dutch players all seem to have a real affinity for the music of Shostakovich! That excellent SACD disc covered quartets Nos. 1, 8 and 10; this disc covers quartets No. 2 and 4, and will serve as a marvelous companion. The arrangements on this current disc from Channel Classics differs from the Barshai transcriptions in that the two quartets have been arranged for string orchestra, and omit Barshai’s use of woodwinds and percussion. The performing ensemble, the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, has a long history with the works of Shostakovich, and this recording features a new arrangement by bassist Marijn van Prooij that helps the works transition better to a strict string orchestra format.

The post WWII scenario in Russia found a great deal of anti-Semitism; Dmitri Shostakovich was extremely empathetic to the plight of the Jews, and much of his music was centered on Jewish texts and folk themes. His String Quartet No. 4 also contained Jewish themes, and shortly after the works’ completion, he was branded a “formalist” and a “cosmopolitan” by the chairman of the Moscow composers’ union. This made life quite difficult for Shostakovich, and the quartet’s premiere was delayed until after the death of Stalin. Ironically, the work is reminiscent of his Second Piano Trio, which also featured Jewish themes, and which was awarded the Stalin prize! The Quartet No. 2 is slightly more sunny in nature; its opening overture is shows the obvious influence of Beethoven and Mozart. Shostakovich was intimately familiar with the string quartet literature, and could quote fluently from the masters of the genre.

This disc is an absolute delight from start to finish, and is a triumph on every level. The performances are exceptional and the recording is superb, setting a new reference for this literature. If you’re a fan of the music of Shostakovich, this disc is a no-brainer and not to be missed. Five stars – very highly recommended!

— Tom Gibbs 

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