Dmitry Shostakovich

Chamber Symphony in C minor, Op. 110a (arr. by Barshai from String Quartet No. 8 )

    Description by Robert Cummings

    This work is an arrangement of Shostakovich's 1960 String Quartet No. 8, Op. 110, by the well-known conductor Rudolf Barshai. It is a quite literal transcription of a work whose original instrumentation is undoubtedly well-suited to the music. Barshai's larger arrangement then, should be regarded as an alternative version whose primary purpose is to allow greater access to Shostakovich's masterpiece.

    The work is rife with quotations from Shostakovich's earlier works, including the First, Fifth and Tenth Symphonies, and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Originally, the quartet was said by Soviet sources to be a musical exposé of Fascism, an explanation the composer did not initially challenge. Later, however, he is said to have denied the quartet was specifically associated with that idea, pointing out that the quotations from the works mentioned above would not be consistent with that interpretation. Moreover, Shostakovich quotes from the Russian song "Exhausted by the hardships of prison," whose presence in the work also cannot be reconciled with the official Soviet view of the composition.

    Obviously this quartet was personal and carried much biographical significance for the composer. Indeed, the first movement Largo opens with the notes D, E flat, C and B, representing the German spelling of "DSCH," the monogram Shostakovich often used in his works. The music in this Largo is ominous and mournful, but sounds more tragic and intense in the original scoring. The savagery of the second movement, however, is conveyed quite effectively in the string orchestra arrangement. Here, Shostakovich quotes a Jewish theme that also appears in the finale of his Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello, Op. 67.

    The third movement, marked Allegretto, fares well in Barshai's arrangement, too, though the ensuing Largo movements are more tragic-laden, their anguish coming across with greater intensity and passion in the quartet. Yet, the three-note motif in the fourth movement may have greater power in the Barshai arrangement, and the "DSCH" motto that reappears in the finale is also appropriately conveyed in the string orchestra version.

    In the end, it must be said that Barshai handles all the music of this complex and tragic work with great skill. There have been many recordings of his transcription, at least as many as the quartet itself.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Largo
    2. Allegro molto
    3. Allegretto
    4. Largo
    5. Largo

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 LSO Live LSO 0786
    2016 CuGate Classics CGC 011
    2016 Naxos 8573466
    2015 Harmonia Mundi HMU 907634
    2015 Linn Records BKD 095
    2015 Lawo Classics 1082
    2014 Phaia Music PHU 040
    2013 Zebralution
    2013 Channel Classics CCSSA 34313
    2012 Decca 4784252
    2012 Decca
    2012 E1 Music / Entertainment One / eOne 7784
    2011 Onyx ONYX 4007
    2010 Decca
    2009 Chandos 30
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2008 Bayer Records 100328
    2008 Rca Red Seal 82876502682
    2007 Brilliant Classics 8128
    2007 Praga DSD250232
    2007 Talent Records 72
    2007 Decca
    2007 Decca 475 8748DC12
    2006 Coviello Classics COV 30201
    2006 Brilliant Classics 8212
    2006 Decca 475 7431DC9
    2005 Erato
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 4775442
    2005 Capriccio Records 67115
    2005 Sony Classical 94733
    2004 Fazer / Finlandia
    2004 Challenge Records 72130
    2003 BIS 301256
    2002 Budapest Music Center 068
    2001 Delos 3259
    2001 BBC Legends / BBC Music 40632
    2001 Haenssler 98917
    2001 Phoenix USA PHCD151
    2000 Calliope 9299
    2000 Linn Records CKD095
    1999 Claves 509115
    1999 Naxos 550953
    1999 Col Legno 20041
    1998 Carlton Classics 02282
    1997 ECM 453 512-2
    1997 Chandos 7061
    1997 BMG 21620
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 56442
    1996 Opus 111 OPS30-165
    1996 New Albion 088
    1993 IMP Classics 1000
    1992 Chandos 8357
    1992 Nimbus 889431909
    Sony Music Distribution 48372
    Conifer 51246
    PopeMusic 2009
    PopeMusic 1009
    Kmart 9506028
    Nimbus NI1749
    Dolphin 701
    Philharmonia of the Nations 53
    Samsung Classics 013
    Brilliant Classics 8128/13
    Victoria 19060
    Virgin 59039
    Bluebell 039
    Nimbus 5308
    RCA 7947
    London 433028
    Ondine 817
    Aurophon Records 34027
    Warner Bros. 45995
    Cypres 5606
    Aurophon Records 31467
    MusicMasters 60109