Review by Beagle March 5, 2008 (2 of 2 found this review helpful)
|QUARTET WRIT LARGE
Günter Grass begins his novel ‘The Tin Drum’ with the words “Granted, I am an inhabitant of an insane asylum…”. In the same spirit of full-disclosure I must say “Granted, I am the string quartet fanatic who rages whenever an à quattro is fluffed out for full orchestra.”. But I am also on record here as not mere accepting but enjoying Barshai’s transformation of Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet*. And I absolutely love it here, as realised by Orbelian & Co. --I am tempted to call Opus 110a my favourite Shostakovich symphony. Shostakovich’s music drags itself along from depressive Largo to mournful Largo to… depressive Largo: beautiful but sad (how could he be happy, with a musical signature of D, Eb, C Bb?). This music is perhaps life-affirming if only in the sense of ‘somehow, I survived all that…’.
I am a Schnittke fan, certainly of his quartets. Schnittke himself favoured strings, and in much of this Concerto the piano finds itself accompanying the string orchestra. But that doesn’t mean that the piano and Orbelian the pianist are submerged in the orchestral sound. It is quite the opposite, given the microphone placement -- with at least one mike apparently inside the piano, creating the amusing illusion of the orchestra being in the back of the piano! Pace Castor, it may not be a realistic soundscape as heard from the third-row, centre – but it makes very delicious ‘ear candy’. I am also a bit surprised that Castor found the Schnittke piece to be “even more anguished” than the Shostakovich, since I find it relatively ‘upbeat’ by comparison, consistently thoughtful but occasionally as celebratory as church bells. Our divergence of impressions testifies to the depth of the music here, which can support a rich variety of individual experiences, all of them I hope pleasurable.
Constantine Orbelian justifies recording these two works together with the common theme of ‘victims of war etc’, but they are remarkably different in sound, structure and social milieu. Their pairing makes for a mentally refreshing contrast, more than a continuous theme. The music-making of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra is outstanding, even in the context of such excellent ensembles as Mackeras’ Scottish Chamber Orchestra (which itself is damned good). The sound-capture, an early essay into DSD, is wonderfully rich at all frequencies. I, at least, find the venue of the Shostakovich piece very much to my liking, neither too lively nor too dead in resonance. I do find the piano miking of the Schnittke piece to be astonishingly ‘close’ – but it entertains my senses more than it offends my sensibilities.
*Barshai subsequently transformed Shostakovich’s Third and Tenth Quartet, but I have never heard them performed.
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