This second disc from the young Kiev Virtuosi completes Rudolf Barshai’s now familiar arrangements of five of Dmitri Shostakovich’s fifteen String Quartets.
For many years, Barshai was the distinguished viola in the Borodin Quartet, and, as they were among the foremost exponents of Shostakovich’s quartets, he was frequently brought into contact with the composer. However, it was many years after the composer’s death that most of Barshai’s transcriptions took place, thereby never having the composer’s blessing.
That raises the question as to whether Shostakovich would have wanted the introduction of woodwind in the arrangement of the Third Quartet, that issue confused here by the sleeve note writer describing it as the ‘Symphony for Strings’, whereas Barshai gave it the correct title, ‘Chamber Symphony’. In its original guise it has become one of the most often played works, though this five-movement score, with its explosive third movement, originally fell foul of the communist diktat. Unlike Barshai’s arrangement of the Fourth, where he added woodwind and brass to beef-up the texture, here he uses woodwind in the most delicate moments, their distinctive colour bringing unusual textural colours, particularly in the movement’s withdrawn slow movement. His arrangement of the Tenth Quartet is less contentious, Barshai largely content on distributing the score to a much enlarged string quartet with passages given to solo instruments.
It was the one arrangement Barshai completed while Shostakovich was alive, and obviously received the composer’s blessing. When reviewing the earlier disc I commented that ‘the Kiev Soloists are something very special under their conductor, Dmitry Yablonsky, with the vigour, excitement and impact of a young ensemble’, and that is equally true of this second instalment. The exactitude of their playing is linked to a massive dynamic range that packs a power far greater than their size suggests. The engineer has gone in far too close to the clarinet in the Chamber Symphony, but that apart the recording is equally outstanding.
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