Vasily Petrenko

Fleishman: Rothschild's Violin; Shostakovich: The Gamblers

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A reasonable, if slightly cynical question to ask about this set including Shostakovich's completion and orchestration of Benjamin Fleischmann's opera Rothschild's Violin and his own incomplete opera The Gamblers might be, "Wouldn't it have been smarter, and more of a gift to posterity, if Shostakovich had used the time and energy he spent on Fleischmann's opera completing his own?" History is of course too complicated to accommodate simple answers to questions like that; Shostakovich never completed The Gamblers because of the strong likelihood that Soviet authorities would never have allowed it to be produced, and he completed Fleischmann's Violin, the work of one of his favorite students who was killed in the siege of Leningrad, because he saw its musical and dramatic power and believed it deserved to be brought before the public. Its style is close to Shostakovich's, but its extensive use of folk idioms mark it as the work of a different artistic temperament. It's a dramatically direct piece, with memorable melodies, and should make a fine companion piece for other one-act operas. The Gamblers, begun just after the Seventh Symphony, has a higher musical profile, and allows Shostakovich to give free rein to his underused gift for expressing humor in music. The one completed act is full of irony and sly wit often created through ingenious orchestration, and its comic characters are sharply delineated. The effectiveness of the first act creates an acute sense that the music world, which suffers from a dearth of genuinely funny modern operas, experienced a real loss with the composer's decision not to complete the work. Vasily Petrenko leads the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in performances that can glitter or turn lushly poignant, depending on the demands of the mercurial scores, and the Russian casts sing with passion and strong characterization. Avie's sound is full, warm, and well balanced.

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