In praise of ... Shostakovich

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Barry
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In praise of ... Shostakovich

Post by Barry » Mon Jan 02, 2006 12:20 pm

In praise of ... Shostakovich

Leader
Monday January 2, 2006
The Guardian


There's no doubt about which composer will be dominating the airwaves this month and for most of this year: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born in Salzburg 250 years ago. There's another great musical anniversary to be celebrated this year, however, and this time a real centenary: the birth in September 1906 of Shostakovich. His was not the kind of flawless, God-given genius Mozart's is often taken to be: some of his music, written under the lash of poverty or political intimidation, is dross. Yet the pressures with which he had to contend have little parallel in musical history. Others suffered from unsympathetic or bullying patrons; Shostakovich had to battle with Stalin who, having been in the audience for his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, had the composer denounced. Sometimes, both then and even in the Khrushchev years, he succumbed, for which critics condemned him, as he condemned himself. But in this centenary year, new audiences may be brought to explore not just the already unquestioned masterpieces among his symphonies, concertos and string quartets, but smaller-scale, less celebrated music, where, in a climate where the collective was rated the highest good, what he wrote was most deeply felt and most utterly personal. At the end of the annual Vienna New Year concert yesterday the great conductor Maris Janssons spoke of classical music as "spiritual nourishment". There is little richer spiritual nourishment in 20th-century music than you may find in the truest and best of Shostakovich.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
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Post by Barry » Mon Jan 02, 2006 12:21 pm

Even if he had composed nothing but the symphonies and string quartets, Shostakovich would be my favorite composer who worked in the twentieth century. I use the phrase "worked in" because he tops even the 19th-20th century straddlers like Mahler and Richard Strauss, for me.

In his better works, there is a level of emotional intensity that I feel in the gut in a way I don't for any other composers with the exceptions of my three Bs; Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

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Post by Corlyss_D » Mon Jan 02, 2006 3:19 pm

Even Mahler????? Wow!

I like Shostakovich too. Not as much as you do, but he's one of the few 20th century composers I can turn to in utter confidence that he won't disappoint. I recently went on a St. Quartet binge and enjoyed them greatly. He knew how to combine edginess with lyricism and still keep it fresh and emotionally satisfying and without resorting to noisy empty tricks. If you haven't tried his 2nd piano concerto, give it a whirl - I can think of few more romantic pieces than its wistful second movement.
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Ted

Post by Ted » Mon Jan 02, 2006 3:37 pm

Shostakovich’s Symphony # 5… Leonard Bernstein’s NY Philharmonic recording is fantastic, but one of my favorite listening experiences was hearing Bernstein and the NY Phil playing it live in the UN General Assembly in the 70’s…Great Acoustics there

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Post by jserraglio » Mon Jan 02, 2006 3:51 pm

Piano Trio No. 2--I heard the Weilerstein family, Donald, Alisa, and Vivian Hornik Weilerstein (now the Weilerstein Trio at the New England Conservatory) perform this work and it just about ripped my heart out. I didnt know chamber music could be that intense.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Mon Jan 02, 2006 4:15 pm

jserraglio wrote:Piano Trio No. 2--I heard the Weilerstein family, Donald, Alisa, and Vivian Hornik Weilerstein (now the Weilerstein Trio at the New England Conservatory) perform this work and it just about ripped my heart out. I didnt know chamber music could be that intense.
Okay . . . peaked my curiosity . . . now looking on Amazon . . .
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Post by Niki » Mon Jan 02, 2006 8:37 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:Even Mahler????? Wow!.....
I second Corlyss. More so as DS seems to me the 20th century reincarnation of Mahler.. considering that he was a culmination of 19th century romanticism.


I also enjoy very much Bernstein's performance of DS 5th. I was quite surprised to read Volkov's "Testemony" (?) where he quoted DS extremely harsh criticism of Bernstein's interpretation of his 5th symphony. I do not remember what he said verbatum but it was in the spirit of : Lenny had no clue how the 5th should sound...

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Post by MaestroDJS » Mon Jan 02, 2006 8:56 pm

Symphony No. 15 by Dmitri Shostakovich is wonderfully fresh and scored with amazing subtlety. On the surface it seems to be a very relaxed and delightful work, but there's serious stuff a-plenty beneath the surface. I absolutely love the quiet percussion pattern that ends the work, because it haunts the memory long after the music ends.

Sometimes I pair this work with Symphony No. 6 by Carl Nielsen, another final symphony. He too begins his final symphony in a spirit of near-frivolity, but soon Nielsen veers into near-tragedy. Shostokovich is not as direct, but the range of expression is no less moving.

Mini language lesson: I learned just enough Russian to read the labels on CDs and LPs. When Russian names are transliterated from Cyrillic letters into Roman letters, many different spellings can result due to the different rules of pronunciation for English, German, French, etc. French was the preferred language of educated Russians in the 19th Century. French transliterations thus became the most common forms of Russian names in the Roman alphabet, and they are still often used in English (it's probably why we write "Tchaikovsky" instead of "Chaikovsky").

Russian: Дмитрий Шостакович
English: Dmitri Shostakovich
German: Dimitri Schostakowitsch
French: Dimitri Chostakovitch
Polish: Dmitri Szostakowicz

Polish is a Slavic language closely related to Russian, but it uses the Roman alphabet instead of the Cyrillic. Therefore, Polish transliterations of Russian names may technically be most correct.

Note: Dimitri Schostakowitsch used the German transliteration of his own name as the basis of a musical signature (à la BACH). For example the notes DSCH (S=Es=E-flat) appear very prominently in his Symphony No. 10 in E Minor.

Dave

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Post by pizza » Tue Jan 03, 2006 1:42 am

It's hard to imagine the hype and excitement when the 7th was about to be introduced to the US in '42 during the war.

The score had been placed on 35mm film, packed into a small box and shipped by air to Tehran, then by land to Cairo, and then on a plane to the US. Koussevitzky, Stokowski and Toscanini all fought for the right to introduce it. Koussevitzky was awarded the concert premiere but a nationwide radio broadcast by Toscanini and the NBC SO preceded it. That was certainly the most exciting broadcast I ever heard.

The scene shifts to autumn, 1956. I had never heard the 7th live and was looking forward to a performance by Reiner and the CSO. On the day of the concert I picked up my program in Orchestra Hall and was surprised to see that the 7th had been removed from the program and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra had replaced it. It was the time of the Hungarian revolt and the Soviets had just invaded Hungary. This was Reiner's revenge.

I still haven't heard a live 7th. :cry:

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Post by dirkronk » Tue Jan 03, 2006 9:10 am

pizza wrote: I still haven't heard a live 7th. :cry:
I have, back in the early 1980s. I wasn't ready for it. The "death march bolero" first movement almost drove me nuts. I was convinced that if there had been a rusty razor blade concession in the lobby, it would have done a booming business. It was years before I could make myself listen to the thing again, let alone attempt to appreciate it.

Luckily, recordings--especially those by Mravinsky and Bernstein/Chicago--have since persuaded me of the symphony's claims to greatness. OTOH, I'd still think twice before hearing it live again.

That said, most of Shostie's output is sheer joy to my ears, both entertaining and enthralling--and not just the string quartets and symphonies, but much of his film and "smaller" chamber and orchestral works as well.

Dirk

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Post by karlhenning » Tue Jan 03, 2006 9:27 am

dirkronk wrote:Luckily, recordings--especially those by Mravinsky and Bernstein/Chicago--have since persuaded me of the symphony's claims to greatness. OTOH, I'd still think twice before hearing it live again.
That's interesting, Dirk! -- because of the several recordings/broadcasts I've heard of the 'Leningrad', most of them manage to disappoint to a greater or lesser degree, while far & away the most thoroughly convincing 'Leningrad' I've known was a live performorance by Gergiev and the Mariinka in Worcester's Mechanics Hall.

It's a great piece. And it is not an easy piece. The fact of its not being easy, and the extraordinary circumstances which made it probably the most famous of 20th century symphonies, have necessarily resulted in more performances/recordings than have quite done the piece justice.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by karlhenning » Tue Jan 03, 2006 9:29 am

And because of the weight of the piece's fame, I think many of us first listened to the piece, before we were quite ready for it.
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Post by Barry » Tue Jan 03, 2006 10:33 am

pizza wrote:
I still haven't heard a live 7th. :cry:
Then find a way to get to NYC this coming Valentine night. You can kill two birds with one stone (you'd meet me too :) ).

Jansons and the Concertgebouw are performing it at Carnegie, and I cant' wait. The only other time I saw it live (Temirkanov/Philly) was one of the better live performances I've ever attended.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

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Post by wd444 » Sat Jan 07, 2006 5:03 pm

Barry I was looking for you in the rush line at the Kimmel last night.
I got to hear the 15th last night and it was great. The best part was
I have never seen a Tuba used so much. It was in each movment along
with the horns. The work just flowed right off the stage it was great.

alexvln

Post by alexvln » Sat Jan 07, 2006 11:14 pm

Hey everyone, I'm new here.

I am 15yo, and I study violin at New England Conservatory, preparatory school in Boston. And speaking of Shostakovich, NEC is holding a celebration concert for him. And his son Maxim will come and conduct the Youth Philharmonic there in his First Piano Concerto, and then they will play his 5th symphony it should be really exiting! So if you are in MA you should come and see the performance! The Youth Philharmonic there is one of the best youth orchestras in America. I don't mean for this to sound like an advert or anything but it's just really cool! haha

http://concerts.newenglandconservatory. ... ate_Day=12

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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Jan 07, 2006 11:18 pm

alexvln wrote:Hey everyone, I'm new here.

I am 15yo, and I study violin at New England Conservatory, preparatory school in Boston. And speaking of Shostakovich, NEC is holding a celebration concert for him. And his son Maxim will come and conduct the Youth Philharmonic there in his First Piano Concerto, and then they will play his 5th symphony it should be really exiting! So if you are in MA you should come and see the performance! The Youth Philharmonic there is one of the best youth orchestras in America. I don't mean for this to sound like an advert or anything but it's just really cool! haha

http://concerts.newenglandconservatory. ... ate_Day=12
Thanks for the notice, Alex. We have a couple of folks here from Mass. If they hadn't heard about the concert, well, you've let them know.

Welcome to our little corner of the Net. Kick your shoes off and set a spell.
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Post by gfweis » Sun Jan 08, 2006 7:20 am

I want to second what jserraglio said about the Piano Trio No. 2, and also put a word in for the Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 77/99. It's not a perfect work. I’ve read those who say the piece is a failure because the movements don’t fit together. I don’t agree with this (the passacaglia is full of references to the nocturno, for example), but I do think that there are some prosaic passages, and it's questionable whether the long cadenza at the end of the third movement is a good bridge between the passacaglia and the last movement burlesque. I think the cadenza is very hard to integrate, emotionally, into that third movement and into the concerto as a whole. No performer I have heard completely solves this. But what about that passacaglia!! It currently gets my vote for the most moving and beautiful thing DS wrote.
Many seem to believe that Oistrakh/Mravinsky permanently own the piece, and I used to think so myself. Now I’m not so sure. (I would have named three other really good ones: Kogan/Svetlanov (live), Oistrakh/Mitropoulos (DO had just been ill and he sounds a bit weary, which, however, doesn’t exactly unsuit the piece---also, in light of the fact that it was only months later than his recording w. Mravinsky, he amazingly gives a completely different reading to the passacaglia---much more lyrical), and Kogan/Kondrashin (live). (The Sitkovetsky and Salerno-Sonnenberg aren’t contenders in my book. I have not heard the Vengerov.) But after I read on one of the Shostakovich websites that someone’s favorite was Tretyakov/Temirkanov, and then saw it at Berkshire for $3.99, I got it. Well. This all turns on how you want the passacaglia (which is surely the heart of the piece). With DO/Mravinsky and Tretyakov you get two very different interpretations. The former is retrospective, and expresses great nobility in having survived (with wounds) some kind of hardship or suffering (the war is over), and having prevailed (all of which latter is remembered, but not re-lived). Tretyakov, at a significantly slower speed, is giving us an entirely contemporary love letter; it’s a love that is unrequited, or perhaps lost, but is not at all nostalgic. Both apply tremendous pressure, and get a fat, full tone, and are completely involved. Right now, today, I’d take Tretyakov to the desert island.
Greg Weis

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Post by DanielFullard » Sun Jan 08, 2006 1:19 pm

I personally adore Shostakovich and rank him just behind Beethoven, Dvorak and Bizet in my top 5. His music makes me feel alive and my words simply cannot do justice to my admiration of this man

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Post by karlhenning » Mon Jan 09, 2006 8:42 am

alexvln wrote:Hey everyone, I'm new here.

I am 15yo, and I study violin at New England Conservatory, preparatory school in Boston. And speaking of Shostakovich, NEC is holding a celebration concert for him. And his son Maxim will come and conduct the Youth Philharmonic there in his First Piano Concerto, and then they will play his 5th symphony it should be really exiting! So if you are in MA you should come and see the performance! The Youth Philharmonic there is one of the best youth orchestras in America. I don't mean for this to sound like an advert or anything but it's just really cool! haha

http://concerts.newenglandconservatory. ... ate_Day=12
Welcome, Alex!
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Post by karlhenning » Mon Jan 09, 2006 8:43 am

gfweis wrote:I want to second what jserraglio said about the Piano Trio No. 2, and also put a word in for the Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 77/99. It's not a perfect work.
And why not, exactly? (I suppose you mean, because of the confusion over the Opus numeration?)

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by gfweis » Mon Jan 09, 2006 9:18 am

Why is it not a perfect work? Well, I'm hesitant to speak against a work that I love, but there are passages that seem to fall short of DS's usual level of inspiration (certainly he flies high overall in this piece). And I do have that problem I mentioned with the fit of the long cadenza.

I suppose the dual opus numbers are confusing until one reads the explanation for it, but no, I wan't thinking of that at all.
Greg Weis

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Post by Barry » Mon Jan 09, 2006 4:35 pm

wd444 wrote:Barry I was looking for you in the rush line at the Kimmel last night.
I got to hear the 15th last night and it was great. The best part was
I have never seen a Tuba used so much. It was in each movment along
with the horns. The work just flowed right off the stage it was great.
Is that Dave? I was planning on going to the Saturday performance, but some things came up and I missed it. Glad you liked it though (did you sit in the Conductor's Circle?). I'm hoping Eschenbach conducts more Shostakovich. He led a wonderful performance of the fifth symphony a few seasons ago.

The Shostakovich 8th symphony may be the orchestral piece I've yet to see live that I most want to get to.

I think my next concert will be the first Saturday in February when Rattle conducts Bruckner's 7th. Maybe I'll see you there.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

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Post by karlhenning » Mon Jan 09, 2006 4:44 pm

Barry Z wrote:The Shostakovich 8th symphony may be the orchestral piece I've yet to see live that I most want to get to.
Ah, Barry! -- if only you had been in Boston to hear the BSO play this under the baton of Paavo Berglund
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Post by Barry » Mon Jan 09, 2006 4:49 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Barry Z wrote:The Shostakovich 8th symphony may be the orchestral piece I've yet to see live that I most want to get to.
Ah, Barry! -- if only you had been in Boston to hear the BSO play this under the baton of Paavo Berglund
I know. I know. :x
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

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Post by karlhenning » Mon Jan 09, 2006 5:03 pm

Not sure I can help you, Greg; I have no issue with that marvelous cadenza.

And of course both Rakhmaninov and Prokofiev had coposed "monstrous" cadenze, too.
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Can't get into Shostakovich

Post by Scott in VT » Mon Jan 16, 2006 12:22 pm

Okay, label me an ignorant philistine, but so far I haven't warmed up to Shotsakovich. I DID like the second piano concerto (Leonsjaka and the Saint Paul Chamber Orch.), but that's to date. I have the complete string quartets by the Fitzwilliaim Quartet and have listened to the first six. I can appreciate his acerbic humor, but it's not my cup of vodka. There's just something "hard" and 'brittlle" about his music (I'm groping for words here), and his melodies leave me cold. I'll pass on the Leningrad, thank you, great as it may be. I haven't been able to sort out which of his works were written for propaganda purposes and which weren't.

Maybe he's just too "Russian" for me, though I do love Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky (if he is properply considered to be a "Russian" composer). I haven't taken to the little I've heard of Prokofiev, either.

Okay, I'm a bit of a neophyte, but the other night I listened to Mahler for the first time (his #1) and immediately loved it. Ditto Bruckner, who's not an easy listen for a beginner, so it's as if I'm afraid of a challenging work.

Any of you D.S. or S.P. fans care to have at me? I do consider myself an open-minded chap.

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Re: Can't get into Shostakovich

Post by Barry » Mon Jan 16, 2006 12:27 pm

Scott in VT wrote:Okay, label me an ignorant philistine, but so far I haven't warmed up to Shotsakovich. I DID like the second piano concerto (Leonsjaka and the Saint Paul Chamber Orch.), but that's to date. I have the complete string quartets by the Fitzwilliaim Quartet and have listened to the first six.
Shostakovich really may just not be your cup of tea. But try the 8th string quartet. It's his most popular one. If you want to try a symphony, I recommend starting with the fifth or tenth. For the fifth, try Bernstein's late 50s recording on Sony. For the tenth, Mravinsky. Or if you want a less Russian sounding orchestra, you can get the Ormandy double CD set of numbers four and ten.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

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Post by Scott in VT » Mon Jan 16, 2006 5:48 pm

Thanks for the recommendations, Barry Z. I'll check these out.

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Re: Can't get into Shostakovich

Post by Heck148 » Mon Jan 16, 2006 7:31 pm

Scott in VT wrote:Okay, label me an ignorant philistine, but so far I haven't warmed up to Shotsakovich. I DID like the second piano concerto (Leonsjaka and the Saint Paul Chamber Orch.),
me too, I love that piece...
I'll pass on the Leningrad, thank you, great as it may be. I haven't been able to sort out which of his works were written for propaganda purposes and which weren't.
don't worry about the propaganda titles. we have no way of knowing what DS really meant. he might have had to slap on a title to please the party-apparatchiks but really had something else in mind. :?: :?

just listen to the music for itself, since all of his works stand quite well on their musical merits alone.
give Shostakovich alot of chances - he's a really great composer...it's worth the wait, and the effort.

have you tried Bernstein/NYPO Shost Sym $5?? from 1959?? that's always a good starting point - plenty of gut-ripping excitement.....

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Post by rogch » Tue Jan 17, 2006 7:57 am

I am "working" my way throgh Shostakovic' strinq quartets these days, i have just bought the Brilliant Classics set. Both the quartets themselves and the preformances are breathtaking. This must be one of my best bargains ever. I have not read the booklet yet, i prefer to let the music speak for itself before i read about it. The fact sheets (or "bull-sheets" as a friend of mine calls them) sometimes don't do the music justice. In Shostakovic' case they often focus too much on the political context in which the music was written. That is important of course, but there is much more to his music than that.

When we talk about Shostakovich' symphonies, we must not forget his first. Written at the age of 19, it made him famous overnight. I don't know why, but i also like his somewhat weird second symphony. And no. 5, 8, 10 etc.... Remarkable for a modern composer to write both 15 symponies and 15 string quartets.

But my favourite work by Shostakovich must be his second piano trio. I heard it live and did not believe my ears. But i have not bought it yet, i don't know which recording to go for. Plenty of good recordings, but i want the perfect one. Any suggestions?
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Post by pizza » Tue Jan 17, 2006 10:00 am

rogch wrote:I am "working" my way throgh Shostakovic' strinq quartets these days, i have just bought the Brilliant Classics set. Both the quartets themselves and the preformances are breathtaking.
I assume that's the Rubio Quartet set. I have the second Borodin set on Melodiya but was considering also getting the Brilliant Classics for the more modern sound. At their usual prices I don't see how I can go wrong.

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