Ever had a dream (or a nightmare) that Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms exists in a version for piano duet? Well, it does, courtesy of Shostakovich, made soon after the Boston world-premiere in 1930. Stravinsky’s scoring includes two pianos, and so Shostakovich may seem even more at a disadvantage by using just the one instrument. Found after his death, this transcription comes off remarkably well; the music’s tread, solemnity, expression and exultation of the original are all there, and not even the chorus is missed – a real testimony to the strength of Stravinsky’s invention and Shostakovich’s ability to retain essentials, and which is powerfully communicated by Jeremy Menuhin and Mookie Lee-Menuhin, a vivid double-act at the piano.
This release of mostly first recordings – only Opus 134 is not – includes some fascinating material, including what remains of a Violin Sonata, abandoned by Shostakovich in 1945. What we have is but five minutes in length, and it seems that the composer’s ambition was considerable. Alternately lyrical and dancing, characteristic brooding always apparent, it’s an interesting fragment, true to its creator, and is here rounded-off simply by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, father of Sasha. He together with Jeremy Menuhin give a revealing account, as they do of the big Sonata (1968) written for David Oistrakh who, alongside Sviatoslav Richter, gave the first public performance in 1968. The current team provide plenty of eloquent expression, rough-hewn momentum and, in the expansive Finale, build to something overwhelming; in short, impressive. They also shed new light on Tsyganov’s version of a movement from String Quartet No.4, a bittersweet Andantino that rises to intense heights.
The remaining Shostakovich arrangement, from 1972, closes the disc, La Serenata by Gaetano Braga (1829-1907), here for violin, soprano, mezzo and piano. Initially the sheer charm could be laid at Fritz Kreisler’s door; when the voices enter something more restless and operatic emerges; it’s a curiosity but a pleasing one.
It’s a shame that the booklet note on the music can be difficult to read, the words overlaid on images, but that is the only criticism of what is a highly recommended release of enterprise and enlightenment. The recorded sound is excellent.