If the print on this review goes blurry on your screen it’s because I’m still rubbing my eyes at the cast list on this astonishing trove of archive finds, unobtainable anywhere on line. The composer Dmitri Shostakovich was a capable pianist who sometimes participated in his own premieres. The people he played with were the elite of Russian music.
Ida Haendel’s sinewy and athletic reading of the often under-rated Britten combines toughness with a cumulative dramatic impetus which is hard to resist. Berglund and the Bournemouth players respond with a terse and argumentative vigour, suitably balanced between resignation and defiant rhetoric, especially in the closing Passacaglia. The Walton Concerto, also dating from 1938-9, is played with an apposite blend of inscrutable panache, as in the irrepressibly brilliant central movement, and elsewhere, a sensuous, if occasionally over-indulgent languor. Rare lapses in the finale can be safely overlooked, in a performance of eloquence and undisputed stature.
Well known for the intensity and profundity of its interpretations, the Quatuor Danel has made a name for itself on the international classical scene (winning such awards as the Diapason d’Or, Choc du Monde de la Musique, and CD of the Month in BBC Music Magazine) in the great cycles that form the basis of the quartet literature, from Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert to Weinberg. Since Russian composers occupy a key position in the Danels’ repertory, it was logical for them to champion the quartets of Shostakovich by recording them complete in 2005. Today Alpha Classics reissues this boxed set, which is among the reference recordings of the composer’s works.
The Mandelring Quartet plays with unflinching resolve, sympathetic expression, incisive attacks, and penetrating tone, which are all necessary in Shostakovich's sardonic and frequently bitter language.
The staying power of the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s string quartets rivals that of his symphonies. His quartets are deeply personal works – intensely autobiographical, confessional, intimate, intensely emotional – and among the most insightful works in the quartet repertoire.
The good news is this recording of Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony is in the same class as the best ever made. The even better news is it's the start of a projected series of recordings of all the Soviet master's symphonies. Vasily Petrenko has demonstrated before this disc that he is among the most talented of young Russian conductors with superb recordings of Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony and of selected ballet suites. But neither of those recordings can compare with this Eleventh. Paired as before with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Petrenko turns in a full-scale riot of a performance that is yet tightly controlled and cogently argued. Said to depict the failed revolution of 1905, Shostakovich's Eleventh is not often treated with the respect it deserves, except, of course, by Yevgeny Mravinsky, the greatest of Shostakovich conductors whose two accounts have been deemed the most searing on record. Until now: Petrenko respects the composer's score and his intentions by unleashing a performance of staggering immediacy and violence, a virtuoso performance of immense drama, enormous tragedy, and overwhelming power.
These are excellent performances of exceptionally interesting repertoire. Prokofiev himself arranged 19 numbers from his Cinderella ballet for solo piano, so he surely would not have objected in principle to their reworking for two pianos; nor in practice, I suspect, because Pletnev’s arrangements are fabulously idiomatic and the playing here has all the requisite sparkle and drive. Shostakovich’s Op 6 Suite is far too seldom heard. True, it is an apprentice piece and open to criticism – both the first two movements peter out rather unconvincingly and the blend of grandiosity à la Rachmaninov and academic dissection of material à la Taneyev is not always a happy or very original one. But as a learning experience the Suite was a vital springboard for the First Symphony a couple of years later and there is real depth of feeling in the slow movement, as well as intimations elsewhere of the obsessive drive of the mature Shostakovich. What a phenomenally talented 16-year-old he was!