Dimitri Shostakovich worked during the Stalin eraold USSR. Some Russian composers left when the leaving was good;Shostakovich stayed. Of all the art forms that are subject to censorship,music is the hardest to censor because it is the most abstract art form(ok,maybe dance). DS's best known work is his 5th symphony. He had been attacked in print for being counter revolutionary. His response was to apologize. The 5th is social realisim;the critics,the party,and the people liked it.Unless you speak Russian,you might steer clear of his songs at first and concentrate on his symphonies and string quartets. He wrote in many different stlyes and died of old age. Happy listening.
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The Shostakovich 8th Quartet is one of the finest of the genre. It has also been scored for a small string orchestra, available on a very good Delos hybrid SACD. Don't have any recommendations of the string quartet version, yet; hoping others will come through here, as I've heard some recently that I want to get but can't remember the artists (it was an older recording). Shostakovich, one of the finest composers of the 20th century, had an interesting life as an artist trying to express himself in Russia under the oppressive Stalin regime; you should do some reading up on him to fully understand the struggles he had to go through. Other brooding, hair-raising works of his would include his 4th and 11th symphonies; his first (in my view, possibly his best--written when he was 18) and 5th symphonies are more accessible and well-known. His symphonies run the gamut from the brooding to the joyful and light-hearted. Well worth listening to his works and expanding your musical universe.
Cpdunn99, I guess you're laughing at the g/f stuff. I don't blame you and look forward to the day I can join in. I would have thought for a woman as smart as she her vocabulary would have provided alternatives to the word 'stupid' but not so. She was, however, intelligent enough to make proper use of it four or five times in single sentences, although only when addressing me for some reason. It was remarkable. I’ll say this, she made some valid points.
Thanks guys, for the info; how about recommendations for specific orchestras and conductors? Ebay has a few 11 cd sets of the complete symphonies conducted by 'Barshai' (?) and they're only going for $30. Why so cheap? Is this something to stay away from? I noticed a Keith Jarrett recording of Shostakovich and got excited until I read some horrible reviews (I love Jarrett's own stuff.) I always need to be careful with classical music: Yo-Yo Ma almost turned me off of the cello for good until I heard Pablo Casals. No offense to Yo-Yo fans out there, what do I know? Just my taste. Really out of my element here.
Get the Barshai set. It is well known to be one of the best values in classical music. The price here is absolutely no indication of quality. It was recorded on a bargain label, but this conductor can be far more interesting than many of the major label conductors. Plus, he is known to be a bona-fide expert on Shostakovich.
As for Shostakovich, I figure him to be an absolute genius but is among the most elusive composers in classical music. Where did he get this stuff, and what does it all mean? It boggles the mind.
I'd second the Borodin Quartet. I have a recording on BBC Music (one of the BBC Legends series) that includes two other great string quartet's, one by Borodin (String quartet No. 2) and the other by Ravel (String Quartet in F). They are from live performances at the Leigh Town Hall for the Edinburgh Festival in 1962. The recording was remastered in 20-bit and is an original (analog) mono recording. The recording is OK, the performances are GREAT. The other two on this disc are much lighter in comparison to the Shostakovich, but then again, I'd say most are!
Congratulations, Kubla. You've stumbled onto some of the greatest music ever composed (in my opinion).
The 8th string quartet is actually a musical autobiography of Shostakovich's life. The four opening notes of the quartet (d, e-flat, c, b) comprise Shostakovitch's "musical signature," and is a dominant theme throughout the piece. The first time he heard the quartet played for him, Shostakovich wrote in his journal that the tears streamed down his face "like piss from a man from having drunk too much beer."
The second movement of the quartet was intended to represent the schizophrenic and tumultuous nature of Shostakovich's world under Stalin and the socialist regime in power at the time. As mentioned above, counter-revolutionary music was a big no-no at the time, and Shostakovich and Prokofiev were (at various times) on the hit list. So, Shostakovich had two catalogues of music going. One which went to Stalin and his censorship boys, and the other which stayed in his desk drawer. Another thing to listen for in the third movement... the two sets of three very abrupt chords are meant to represent the KGB knocking on the door.
I would also recommend that you try listening to the cello concerto. You will immediately recognize the theme of the first movement (it's identical to a passage in the third movement of the quartet, i believe). Anyway, it's a fantastic piece. The second movement is spine-tingling and erie! Rostropovich has recorded it several times (it was composed for him), but my favorite is his recording with Seiji Ozawa and the London Phil. Also on that disk is the Prokofiev Symphonie Concertant (also a phenomenal piece of music!). As a Yo-Yo fan, I would also recommend trying out his recording. It's coupled with an interesting recording of the 5th Symphony. It may just turn you back on to Yo-Yo!
The symphonies are also terrific. Heck, everything is terrific. I once played in an orchestra conducted by Shostakovich's son, Maxim. We played the 5th and 9th symphonies, and to hear Maxim talk about his father, his father's life, and his father's music is something I will always treasure.
Happy listening, Kubla. There's a lot of great music out there!
Hey Eric, GREAT information. With classical music I always think I luckily 'stumbled upon' a rare example of something I actually like but it's been happening more and more so maybe I should finally admit I dig classical music.
I mentioned Yo-Yo because he seems too technical for me but I certainly can't recognize the finer points of personality in classical music yet because I'm not at all familiar with the jumping off point. When I told someone my feelings on Yo-Yo Ma's Bach they gave me a copy of Anner Bylsma performing Bach's cello suites and that was indeed more my style...he (or she?) plays Bach like later Coltrane playing Rodgers and Hammerstein - with manic, hysterical irreverence. It's the only Bylsma I have though so who knows...
I read your comments on your system and it seems like we have similar tastes: small jazz ensembles, solo cello, sting quartets, opinion on ML speakers...
How fortunate are you to have experienced playing Shostakovich in an orchestra? Talk about being engaged with the music.
What instrument do you play?
i'm not familiar with Anner Bylsma but my favourite of the bach cello suites, (gendron, fournier, casals) is still Fournier. I just don't understand Casal's bach Cello Suites. As for the sonatas and partitas, my order of preference are Szeryng or Grumiaux, 1960s Milstein. I feel like sucking old cardboard when I hear the Szigeti. Maybe I'm just not philosophical enough for him.
I'm not a Yo Yo Ma fan either. He's a great person and I appreciate his efforts to explore various music but he simply doesn't move me the way Natalia Gutman, Rostropovich, Fournier do.
The shostakovich cello concerto is really worth hearing live (oh god, i forgot which one, the one that opens with the 4 repeated drummings (three short and one long)......) It's extremely impressive and overwhelming... emotionally, energetically, and technically. I have a Rostropovich Svetlanov recording from the world premiere which isn't bad, but ofcourse the acoustics is compromised.
Have you tried Bartok's string quartets?
Linda, whose CDs have been gathering dust across the pacific.
Ljan, the 11th is indeed underperformed, it really requires a lot of concentration not only from the musicians but especially the audience. Most concertgoers stateswide aren't ready for that, certainly not the mainstream classical radio stations. Listened to the Cello Concerto No. 1 last night with its incredible cadenza between the second and third movements, definitely should add that to the list of pieces to hear, as well as the violin concerto (Hahn does a decent job with that, though there are better I'm sure). Shostakovich has a way with his slow movements of conveying great longing and emotion, always strike a chord with me.
By the way, what's with CDs gathering dust across the Pacific?
For a complete set of the string quartets, the best sounding are by the Emerson String Quartet, they either won or were nominated at the Grammys for their set. The Emersons are one of the best if not the best string quartet around, they are Shostakovich experts to boot. I think it was at one of the chamber music festivals, they played all 15 in either one or two days. They play with elan, their bow technique is unique, and their phrasing is original. A true best buy. They are on Deustch Grammophon, also the recordings are excellent, not second rate like most.
Rcprince: I left my little collection of CDs overseas when I moved back to the states four, five years ago. I've been constantly moving for the past couple years so I guess it's a good idea that they weren't with me. I'm plotting to get them back when I can. I played the 11th with an awesome youth orchestra many years ago. Literally half the string section walked off stage after the concert weeping. I miss those days.
btw... you just can't go wrong with David Oistrakh. I haven't heard the Emerson Quartet in a long time but they gave a startling performance last time i heard them, even given the fact that the cellist or violinist started a couple measures late (LOL).
The Emmerson Quartet that Shubertmaniac mentioned is also available as a single disk with only the 8th String Quartet played without pause. I believe it is the same version on the boxed set and is also on Deutsche Grammaphon. It is much cheaper than the boxed set if you are only after that one piece. I only mention it as it was the seed that started the whole thread. Here is the Amazon Listing
I have not heard it so cannot comment on the performance or quality of the recording.
I came to the right place. I certainly have enough great recommendations from people who obviously know what they're talking about. Thanks! ...and keep them coming for everybody else. (i'll try to catch up)
btw, for anyone interested ebay seems to have a steady stream of the previously mentioned barshai collection of complete shostakovich symphonies (on cd) for $30-$40 w/ 'buy it now' - or whatever it's called. that's where i'm starting.
Iasi's recs are definitive IMO. So I MUST waste server space in seconding the Mitropoulos/Oistrakh - /Rostro for the violin & cello. How rare to discover s/one familiar with these versions!
The Mravinski/Lenigrad 10 is also undisputable.
Another version for violin is L Kogan/Svetlanov/USSR S.O. Different and beautiful view (nostalgic at times) -- but, IMO, it doesn't surpass Mitropoulos.
For 7 I'll have to check Gergiev (St Petersburg, I suppose?). I've been running on K Ancerl/Czech S O until now.
The new Gergiev 7th is an SACD, so I'll be getting it soon (although his Sheherazade was a disappointment, sonically, not interpretively); will be interesting to contrast with the Bernstein, which has been my reference and a critic fave. Definitely will look for the Mitropoulos versions of the cello/violin concerti.
Get the historic recording released by Chandos of the 1960's recording by the legendary Borodin String Quartet, they recorded these 3 times, with a few changes in 1 violinist, but its this first recording that is amazing. Not sure, but someone at Chandos wanted to make sure these recordings saw the light of day at least one more time, blessed us.
Give a listen to The Ahn Trio playing music by Kenji Bunch,
especially "Slow Dance" on their "Ahn-Plugged" CD. That may bring a tear or two. His "Swing Shift" is very atmospheric, on their latest CD, "Groovebox"
Also, it seems some of the Estonians/Georgians--Tubin and Nadarejshvili for example--have picked up where Shostakovich left off. Still lots of strife in that part of the world.
It may just be my feeling, but it seems that many normally lyrical composers, such as Copland, really do some atonal, discordant, spine-chilling stuff in their chamber music, string quartets in particular. As if their symphonies, tone poems, etc., are written to appeal to the masses, while they let it all hang out for the more hip with their chamber music.