Wolf-Ferrari / Shostakovich Piano Concertos / Shchedrin: Piano Concerto No. 5 / Denis Matsuev / Shostakovich: Symphony No. 15

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 15
Royal Concertgebouw Orch/Bernard Haitink, cond.
RCO LIVE 11001 TT: 47:11

WOLF-FERRARI: Trttico, Op. 19. Arabesque on an aria by von Ettore Tito, Op. 22. Divertimento, Op. 20. Venetian Suite, Op. 18.
Münchner Rundfubndkorchester/Ulf Schirmer, cond.
cpo 777 567 TT: 68:34

SHOSTAKOVICH: Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 35. Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 102. SHCHEDRIN: Piano Concerto No. 5.
Denis Matsuev, piano; Mariinsky Theatre Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.

Bernard Haitink always had a keen interest in symphonies of Shostakovich recording all fifteen for Decca over a period of years. Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10 and 15 were with the London Philharmonic (of which he was music director 1967-1979), the rest with the Royal Concertgebouw (which he led from 1959-1988). All of these excellent recordings are available in a boxed set at budget price. There also are live recordings of Symphony No. 4 with the Chicago Symphony and Symphony No. 10 with the LPO on their own labels. This new release of Symphony No. 15 is magnificent in every way. Program notes indicate it was recorded during performances in Amsterdam April 17, 18 and 19, and March 21, 2010. It would be intriguing to know just how much editing was done, but the end result is superb. The only problem with this release is that it only contains the symphony, with a playing time of less than 48 minutes. Surely other music should have been included.

Ermano Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948), best known through orchestral interludes from his comic operas. Many collectors will know the EMI disk released about two decades ago with Sir Neville Marriner and ASMF performing a group of overtures and excerpts from Wolf-Ferrari's operas, including The Secret of Suzanne, The Jewels of the Madonna and I Quatro Rusteghi (The Four Curmudgeons). That CD, still available, is a delight, but you'll hear little of the sprightly music on that recording on this new issue that concentrates on the somber side of the composer. Trittico begins with a dirge followed by a funeral march, concluding with a prayer featuring a violin solo. The Arabesque is a set of unimaginative variations on a theme by a minor Italian composer, lasting for almost 13 minutes. Divertimento consists of four movements, the first a set of variations on a "capricious" theme, followed by a Canzone Pastorale, Siciliana and Rondo Finale. Venetian Suite also has four movements ending with "Festive Morning," a highly subdued representation of the subject. Ulf Schirmer and his fine orchestra do what can be done for this music. As happens so often with the cpo label, program notes are often unclear and confusing, perhaps partially because of the translation of Herbert Rosendorfer's German original. Audio is OK, but there is no surround sound effect.

It has taken a few years, but finally Russian pianist Denis Matsuev has conquered the musical world since his triumph at the 11th International Tchaikovsky Festival in 1998. A solid musician with a fabulous technique, he specializes in Russian repertory, and now we have this stunning issue of the two Shostakovich piano concertos coupled with the seldom-heard Piano Concerto No. 5 (he wrote six) of Rodion Shchedrin, which was premiered in 1999. This wild concerto, which often seems to out-Prokofiev Prokofiev, obviously is a favorite of Matsuev; he previously recorded it with Maris Janssons on the podium, issued only in Europe. It is an odd, rambling 33-minute work, and you won't forget the masses of percussive sound. While there are many recordings of the Shostakovich concertos (including Concerto No. 1 with Matsuev and Temirkanov conducting), these new performances are among the best. I was disappointed by the audio in the Matsuev Rachmaninoff SACD (Concerto No. 3/Paganini Rhapsody) on the Mariinsky label (REVIEW), but on this new release, piano sound is more defined. This is a superb issue in every way. And if the Shchedrin concerto intrigues you, don't miss the remarkable video of the composer's Double Concerto for Cello and Piano played by Mischa Maisky and Martha Argerich (REVIEW).

R.E.B. (February 2012)