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Scottish Ensemble - Ravel and Shostakovich - Daily Telegraph

21 June 2003
Daily Telegraph
Geoffrey Norris

Rudolph Barshai's string orchestra arrangement of Shostakovich's Eighth String Quartet has long been acknowledged as a sensitive reworking that gives the piece a plausible and valuable separate existence. Less well known is his orchestral version of the tenth quartet, which the Scottish Ensemble pairs here, in fine performances, with his recent scoring of Ravel's F minor Quartet.

Barshai, as a string player, conductor and close associate of Shostakovich, was well placed to craft his orchestrations with an ear to the composer's own timbres and temperament. The Chamber Symphony OP 118a, as the Tenth Quartet's new guise is called, catches the original's equivocal atmosphere while not dissipating its expressive force. The essential intimacy of the music is not compromised, but Barshai deploys a variety of string sonority, weight and tone to bring new perspectives to it.

Barshai's Ravel, too, is much more than a mere expansion of forces, helping as it does to elucidate textures and contrasts, and using solo instruments as well as the full body of strings to create an  ear-catching canvas of colours.

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