Dmitri Shostakovich – Recommended Recordings

Lady Macbeth of Mtensk, Mstislav Rostropovich, Galina Vishnevskaya, 1580 EMI 7 49955 2

This classic recording of this work was its first, with Mstislav Rostropovich, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Galina Vishnevskaya and Nicolai Gedda, in 1990.

The 15 String Quartets

Borodin Quartet, Melodiya 10 01077

This set, recorded between 1978 and 1983, has gone through numerous incarnations and brief moments of out-of-printness. Currently it is available, with a bit of looking around, from Melodiya again, in its best remastering and packaging yet. With the Borodin players, one never forgets that there is warm blood running through the veins of this music. Their expressive liberties with rhythms and their tremendous range of nuance bring the music closer to speech.

An earlier set, recorded between 1967 and 1971 (still with violinists Rostislav Dubinsky and Yaroslav Alexandrov) ‘‘only’’ contains quartets 1 through 13 for the simple reason that Shostakovich hadn’t yet gotten around to writing the last two (Chandos Historical 10064).

It’s a still grittier alternative, but try to find the Melodiya release first, not just for the two last quartets but also that set’s inclusion of the Piano Quintet with Sviatoslav Richter and Two Pieces for String Octet.

<> Mandelring Quartet, Audite 21411 (SACDs)

The Mandelring Quartett are Shostakovich-seducers, not Shostakovich-enforcers and they bring out the sheer beauty of all of Shostakovich’s brilliantly harrowing ugliness. Three of its four members are siblings and the fourth plays as if he were a family member. They perform as if these quartets were taking place inside a single soul, achieving an extraordinary quality of interiority and unanimity. Accentuating surfaces more than spikes, corners, and gore, their rhythmic beat is propulsive but rarely maniacal and their splendid sound matches that of the recording: a perfect foil to more fervent, rougher interpretations.

Dmitri Shostakovich: Beyond Bombast 361

Pacifica Quartet, Cedille 127, 130, 138

The Pacifica Quartet cycle invigorates and enlightens the Shostakovich quartets with couplings of contemporary quartets: Nikolay Myaskovsky’s 13th on volume 1, Prokofiev’s 2nd on volume 2, Mieczysław Weinberg’s 6th on volume 3, and Alfred Schnittke’s 3rd on volume 4. Their Shostakovich sets a new standard amid already strong competition.

There is also a budget series from Naxos with the excellent Eder Quartet.Without sacrificing intensity, the Eder achieves amazing warmth.

Their superb renditions are closer in spirit to the Borodin and are

available on separate CDs for those who wish to sample before buying a complete set.

24 Préludes and Fugues

Keith Jarrett, ECM 437189

Alexander Melnikov, Harmonia Mundi 902019

The 24 Préludes and Fugues is a marvelous work that eases new ears into Shostakovich’s often acerbic style. It is a conversation of Shostakovich with Bach, over 200 years—and what a privilege it is to eavesdrop on that exchange. No composer has so ably paid tribute to Master Bach as the troubled Russian does in this 20th-century pendant to the Well-Tempered Clavier. Ifthis is still less well known Shostakovich, it’s certainly not lesser Shostakovich. The opening Prélude alone is a masterpiece in perhaps the most wistful pure C major ever written.

Dedicatée Tatyana Nikolayeva—whose prize winning performances at the 1950 Leipzig Bach Competition inspired Shostakovich to write them in the first place—recorded them altogether four times and was long the only game in town. In the ’90s Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca) and Keith Jarrett entered the fray. In the decade since, recordings have mushroomed, unearthing more facets of these underrated, marvelous works. While Nikolayeva plays the works like Schumann (ruminative, bordering turgid you might say), unfussy Jarrett makes them sound much more like Bach. The most recent entry Alexander Melnikov tries to meld the best of both approaches and adds an unusually playful touch.

Piano Trio no. 2, op. 67 (plus Piano Trio no. 1, op. 8 & Aaron Copland’s Vitebsk) Wanderer Trio, Harmonia Mundi 501825

This work is every bit as moving and haunting as the great Piano Quintet and has been receiving an increasing number of splendid recordings.

Attractive alternative choices for both Shostakovich’s Trios with different couplings come from the Kempf Trio (BIS SACD 1482)—which also offers Alfred Schnittke’s Piano Quintet, one of that composer’s most beautiful and genuinely original works—and the Florestan Trio (Hyperion 67834), which adds Shostakovich’s intense and introspective Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok for Piano Trio and soprano.

Symphony no. 4, Mariss Jansons, Bavarian RSO, EMI 57824

Symphony no. 9 (plus Symphony no. 5), Zden ˇek Košler, Czech Phil-
harmonic, Chant du Monde Yakov Kreizberg, Russian National Orchestra, Pentatone SACD 5186096

Symphony no. 15 (plus Boris Tchaikovsky Theme and Variations for Orchestra) Kiril Kondrashin, Dresden Staatskapelle, Profil Hänssler 6065


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