Shostakovich: The Barshai Arrangements - Conrad van Alphen
Talent Records DOM 2929 72
Shostakovich (arr. Barshai): Chamber Symphonies Opp. 49a & 110a, Symphony for Strings Op. 118a
Rotterdam Chamber Orchestra
Conrad van Alphen (conductor)
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Review by Graham Williams - February 3, 2008
Recordings of Rudolf Barshai’s arrangements for string orchestra of the Shostakovich quartets are becoming as popular as the originals, and indeed two of the works on this disc are already available, albeit with different couplings, on SACD. This Talent recording, however, now leads the field in both artistic and sonic terms.
South African born conductor Conrad van Alphen founded the Rotterdam Chamber Orchestra in 2000 and, judging by the performances on this disc, it is a front-rank ensemble. In the performance of the ‘Symphony for Strings Op.118a’ (String Quartet No. 10) there is a much greater range of expression and subtlety than is to be found on the rather cool Scottish Ensemble/Gould version Ravel/Shostakovich - Scottish Ensemble .For example, the way the players attack the ‘Allegretto furioso’ as if their lives depended on it is truly thrilling, while van Alphen’s steady and deliberate tempo for the final ‘Allegretto’ imparts an unexpected and sinister quality to the music that is most effective.
The less familiar ‘Chamber Symphony Op.49a’ (String Quartet No.1) that follows is given a restrained and simple reading, but van Alphen and his players manage to capture wonderfully the tension bubbling below the outwardly calm and untroubled surface of the music. The strikingly beautiful viola playing by Monique van Zeist in the second movement must be singled out, but all the playing is superlative throughout this lovely account of the work.
The ‘Chamber Symphony Op 110a’ (String Quartet No 8) scores over the fine Moscow Chamber Orchestra/Orbelin version Shostakovich/Schnittke - Moscow Chamber Orchestra/Orbelian not just by virtue of a much better recording quality. Here the tremendous intensity evinced in both versions is matched by more refinement in the playing and Conrad van Alphen’s sure-footed control of the dynamics and mood changes throughout this powerful work is masterly.
Thanks to the sterling efforts of the recording engineer Yannick Willox, the rich and generous acoustic of Studio 5 of the Muziekcentrum van de Omroep, Hilversum has been captured to perfection and this, together with the fairly close balance of the orchestra, gives the recording a thrilling presence across the whole frequency range, while the wide stereo separation makes it very easy to locate the exact positions of individual voices within the string ensemble. Furthermore, the excellent surround mastering by Polyhymnia (Jean-Marie Geysen) provides plenty of information from both the centre and surround channels, which gives a satisfying solidity to the front image as well as providing just the right degree of extra ambient warmth to the sound.
These exciting, superbly recorded and committed performances deserve the highest recommendation.
Copyright © 2008 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net
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