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Shostakovich and his secret anxieties

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Joshua Weilerstein is a born communicator. The American conductor has a habit of speaking to the public before subscription concerts. He likes to give little speeches where he contextualizes the works in their time – a few milestones to sharpen the ear of the music lover before listening. This formula, he applies it to a new recording of two Chamber symphonies by Shostakovich. In the bonus tracks, he can be heard commenting in English on the Chamber symphonies op. 73a et al. 83a – his vision of the works tinged with the coercive background with which the Russian composer had to compose. Shostakovich was in fact constantly tormented by the Soviet authorities. He knew he was threatened; he kept a suitcase ready in case he was arrested.

Behind Shostakovich hides the eminent violist Rudolf Barshai. Because chamber symphonies are in fact arrangements of string quartets made by this pupil and precious friend of Shostakovich. As Joshua Weilerstein writes, “Rudolf Barshai’s arrangements of quartets for a larger ensemble find a way to keep them deeply intimate and personal”. And to magnify the musical substrate to make them masterpieces of the genre.

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