Lawrence Power / Simon Crawford-Phillips

Shostakovich: Music for Viola and Piano

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The promised music for viola and piano on this British release is achieved only through the use of transcriptions; the only work originally for viola is the Sonata for viola and piano, Op. 147. And that work is indubitably the centerpiece of the program. The sonata was composed in the summer of 1975 and completed just days before the composer's death from the accreted effects of lung cancer, heart disease, and polio. It is one of the grimmest works in his or anybody else's canon, with a massive slow finale that quotes from Beethoven's "Moonlight" sonata and each of Shostakovich's own 15 symphonies. Even the central Allegretto is deathlike. It is not easy to maintain a sense of momentum in the extremely long lines of this work, but violist Lawrence Power and pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips manage to do so with a measured, careful performance; this is one case with Shostakovich where less is more. The work is framed by a pair of lighter pieces: viola-and-piano arrangements of seven of Shostakovich's Preludes for piano, Op. 34, which make a nice, slighly more somber counterpoint to the better-known violin-and-piano arrangements, and arrangements of five cuts from The Gadfly, Op. 97, a film score of the mid-'50s, during the period of his seeming total submission to Soviet cultural authority, that's as tonal as anything he ever wrote. With the fine recording of the viola sonata, this is a recording that will find a place on good Shostakovich shelves (or hard drives).

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