Shostakovich Chamber Symphony Op. 110a

Constantine Orbelian
Moscow Chamber Orchestra

Excerpt mp3 (6.8 MB)

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) and Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998), the two most important Russian composers of the Soviet era, have a much-deserved reputation as sensitive and insightful chroniclers of the human soul's agonies and victories through times of tragedy and turmoil.

Shostakovich, born in the Russian Empire 11 years before the Bolshevik revolution, came of age in the early '20s and witnessed Stalin's horrible purges (to which he lost several close friends and relatives). Schnittke's formation as a composer came in the late '50s; he was one of the children of the "Khrushchev Thaw," and lived to see the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the Communist era. Shostakovich, spending most of his life in the isolation of Stalinist Russia, had to reject the innovative trends of the avant-garde. Schnittke, like many of his friends, rediscovered and embraced them. However, the music of both composers - no matter how different the artistic means they employed - documents with equal power and subtlety the human drama of their time: seeking means of resistance and struggling for survival, both spiritual and physical.

The Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a is one of the most-often performed of Shostakovich's works, though he never wrote a piece with such a title. With the composer's permission, Rudolf Barshai, the founder and then artistic director of the hugely popular Moscow Chamber Orchestra (which is now also known as the Russian State Academic Chamber Orchestra, and is under the direction of Constantine Orbelian) transformed Shostakovich's Eighth Quartet into the Chamber Symphony for Strings and performed it with his orchestra. The composer liked Barshai's orchestration; the "new" composition was an enormous success and was added to the list of Shostakovich's works as Op. 110a.

The Concerto for Piano and Strings (1979) by Alfred Schnittke is one of the few Schnittke pieces dealing with piano (strings were the composer's favorite instruments). The most amazing thing about this concerto, and indeed many of Schnittke's works, is that it is so complex musically, containing so many layers of meaning and association, that the more one listens to it, the more doors of appreciation it opens, both emotionally and intellectually. It is like a great book, worth reading again and again.

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