SHOSTAKOVICH Chamber Symphony STRAUSS Metamorphosen
Rarely have I been as moved by Strauss’s ‘Study for 23 solo strings’, his in memoriam to a severely bruised culture and to bombed Munich in particular, as I was when listening to this rich-textured recording by the Baltic Chamber Orchestra. Although the chosen tempos are comparatively broad, Emmanuel Leducq-Barôme keeps you on the edge of your seat, principally by achieving maximum tension at the crest of each phrase. Of course the Eroica denouement is obvious right from the start (though other works are alluded to throughout the piece) but when Strauss finally makes his quotation blatant – on cellos and basses at the end of the work – the hairs on the back of my neck all but bristled. I’ve heard versions of Metamorphosen that are dead in the water right from the off (the work can, if clumsily handled, virtually define musical lugubriousness), but this certainly isn’t one of them.
The notion of coupling it with that other great memorial to a shattered German city (Dresden), Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet – here filled out as a C minor ‘Chamber Symphony’ by Rudolf Barshai – is in itself a stroke of genius. Again the playing suggests maximum commitment, with a palpable sense of mystery in the opening Largo, full‑on energy and slashing accents in the Allegro molto, an uncomfortable feeling of delicacy for the cynical Allegretto and vivid reportage of the shuddering gunfire that informs the fourth-movement Largo. Still, good though Leducq-Barôme’s performance is, I must voice a definite preference for the original quartet version: loudly proclaiming this troubling narrative isn’t quite the same as confiding it among friends. That aside, Leducq-Barôme and his players make it work as well as virtually anyone else on disc does.
This is the sort of CD that might profitably convert those who see concert music as ‘irrelevant’: it addresses the world as is; and if ultimately it can’t spell positive closure (as, say, Beethoven’s Fifth can), it does at least offer some grounds for compassion.