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Posted January 4, 2012
The listener expects this recording to be strong from the get-go, given that it features Lynn Harrell (cello), Gerard Schwarz, and the Seattle Symphony. And it delivers. The first piece is Shostakovich¿s Cello Concerto No. 1, and Lynn Harrell¿s playing is evocative and seems just right ¿ it matches the calling of the horns with just the right amount of active energy, but also maintains a level of longing warmth that is definitely there to be found at the core of this piece (it is particularly evident in the 2nd movement). The 4th movement has all of the driven Shostakovich energy, with the orchestra providing strong accompaniment to Mr. Harrell¿s cello.
The second piece on the program is Shostakovich¿s Symphony No. 9, Op. 70. It is tender and unsettling and isolated and a number of other things ¿ which is exactly how it is supposed to be. The moderato movement is filled with a quiet sense of pathos that grows into yet another section of longing warmth. It is breathtaking how smoothly the Seattle Symphony manages this transition under Mr. Schwarz¿s direction. The horn solo in the 3rd and 4th movements is just dynamite. The 5th movement is so well done that ¿ well ¿ if you¿re a Shostakovich fan you just have to hear it. It¿s fantastic.
The five Liadov pieces are relatively short, but with a distinctive Russian sense about them (of course). The Musical Snuff Box is playful and fun, but the jewel of the set is Kikimora ¿ operatic in nature, with a gorgeous English Horn solo. The Ballade is also wonderful and flowing and alive, and it is easy to understand why Liadov¿s music is among some of the most respected. It is a shame that his music is not heard more often, at least here in the West.
All said and done, if you enjoy Shostakovich¿s music it is definitely worth adding this disc to your collection. If you are simply curious, the performances herein are a good eye-opener to what this composer and Liadov have to offer.