Shostakovich - Scottish Ensemble - The Daily Telegraph

SHOSTAKOVICH'S "Chamber Symphony" is his Eighth Quartet, arranged for string orchestra (apparently with the composer's full approval) by conductor and viola player Rudolf Barshai. The larger dimensions suit it well.

There is also an extra level of irony in the work's existing in two versions: officially a lament inspired by the bombing of Dresden, the quartet has been more convincingly explained as the composer's musical suicide note. In 1960, having died spiritually by joining the Communist party under duress, he may have intended to end his life.

By refusing to impose emotion, the magnificent Scottish Ensemble show how intense the work is, independent of whatever coded messages it contains. The players use a vast range of sonorities and dynamics, but nothing seems false or forced.

The Piano Concerto, too, is full of detail and deftness. The trumpet obbligato is rattled off with dry wit by John Wallace; Sophie Rahmen, known for her deep velvet playing in late-Romantic music, shows that she can be just as articulate when adopting a more brittle and brilliant style.

The octet pieces are attractive encores; the recording captures the resplendent acoustics of Glasgow's city hall.

The Daily Telegraph
13 May 2000