Conrad van Alphen

Shostakovich: The Barshai Arrangements

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Though there have been many recordings of Rudolf Barshai's composer-sanctioned string orchestra arrangements of Shostakovich's harrowing Eighth Quartet, and even a handful of recordings of Barshai's arrangement of the composer's masterful Tenth Quartet, this disc features one of the first recordings of Barshai's arrangement of the composer's youthful First Quartet. Like the others, this arrangement's adroit balances and subtle use of dynamics shows that violist-turned-conductor Barshai was always highly sensitive to the nuances of Shostakovich's music, and if like the others, it tells us nothing essentially new about the music, it does make the music available to a wider range of players.

That would in this particular case be the Rotterdam Chamber Orchestra conducted by Conrad van Alphen. A polished group capable of the most delicately tender playing, the Dutch ensemble also isn't afraid to let it rip when the music calls for it. Generally, the performances are as together as the best quartets, and on the very rare occasion when they aren't, it's only for a moment and the effect is truly electrifying. Alphen can sear -- the expanded Eighth Quartet is frightening -- soar -- the expanded Tenth Quartet is exhilarating -- and even relax -- the expanded First Quartet is enchanting -- and, best of all, he scales his interpretations for the size of his ensemble. With the wider dynamic range and greater weight available to him, Alphen turns in big, brawny performances that succeed in translating chamber music into chamber orchestra music. Talent's super audio sound is rich and strong.

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