"Given the ubiquity of Rudolf Barshai’s Shostakovich string quartet adaptations, it’s something of a puzzle that there haven’t been more recordings of his remarkable take on Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives. Now that Yuri Bashmet has asked Roman Balashov to transcribe the five piano pieces that Barshai himself omitted, could it be that the set will take off as it deserves?
The polystylistic Visions fugitives have always responded well to a variety of approaches. Pianists such as Emil Gilels tended to “firm them up”, imparting an elegant solidity to the invention which you won’t find here. The playing of the Moscow Soloists is nothing if not finely chiselled but Bashmet encourages a degree of planned instability and expressive distortion, pointing up the fleeting, transient nature of the music. While some may question why an exquisite melodic inspiration like the “Commodo” (tr 21) should not be left to speak for itself, the results here are sensationally beautiful in their own way. The version by the latter-day Moscow Chamber Orchestra under Constantine Orbelian (Chandos, 11/98) is comprehensively outclassed.
Bashmet’s micro-management of nuance, vibrato and bowing technique suits Stravinsky rather less well and I can imagine some listeners rejecting this Apollo out of hand. We can be sure that a composer who went so far as to portray his music as “essentially powerless to express anything at all” and campaigned to deny his champions the possibility of “interpretation” would have found it impossibly mannered. But perhaps the notes on the page have a right to their own story.
The recording is vivid and lifelike, capturing some extraneous breathing from an extraordinarily accomplished if small-scale ensemble. Over to you."
Gramophone - May 2007
" ...The overall impression left over from this disc is one of poise and restraint, everything gorgeously under control, but at the same time with a sense of real music making – not overly sanitised, and certainly with plenty of character and depth. The recording is set in a pleasantly resonant acoustic, but still with plenty of detail. The playing is genuinely brilliant and sensitively lead in Yuri Bashmet’s interpretations. Bashmet of course has string technique as part of his DNA, but proves once again that there is plenty more to say through the medium of the small string orchestra."
MuiscWebInternational - 26 March 2007
10 PERFORMANCE 10 SOUND
"These performances are outstanding. In Apollo, Yuri Bashmet and Co. manage to put more meat on the bones of this music than you might ever dream possible, without ever compromising its elegant, restrained, neoclassical aesthetic. The key to their success is a wide dynamic range and rich string sonority allied to the necessary rhythmic acuity. Listen to how they dig into the "big tune" at the climax of The Birth of Apollo, or notice the wonderfully fleet and punchy rhythms in the penultimate scene when Apollo dances with all of the muses. The final apotheosis is also just that: haunting but never dragging, and perfectly satisfying in its feeling of finality. This is the kind of performance that may win a few converts to the cause.
Remarkably, the same observations apply to the performance of the Concerto in D, one of Stravinsky’s most arid and cerebral creations. Again, it’s the treatment of rhythm that does the trick: the music in the outer movements trips along with an unusually purposeful and (yes) charming demeanor, and never comes to sound like empty note-spinning. It’s a performance that, incidentally, really does vindicate Stravinsky’s view that his music needs to be played strictly by the score. This doesn’t mean coldly or inexpressively, but the fact is that if the interpreters really apply themselves meticulously (as here) to realizing what he wrote before adding their own "ideas", they will likely enjoy much greater success.
Rudolf Barshai arranged some 13 of Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives for string orchestra, and Bashmet supplements the previous effort with the remaining seven numbers in transcriptions by Roman Balashov. If I find these brief, quirky pieces more effective in their original keyboard guises, it’s not to disparage the excellence of the playing or the aptness of the conducting. The whole set of 20 makes a fine bonus, and of course juxtaposing Stravinsky and Prokofiev in this way is interesting in and of itself. The sonics are perfect: ideally warm and natural. You should find yourself returning to this exceptional disc often."
ClassicsToday.com - 30 March 2007
BBC Music Magazine - April 2007
"This is a highly successful follow-up to the Moscow Soloists’ debut recording on Onyx of Shostakovich, Sviridov and Vainberg that I welcomed wholeheartedly just over a year ago. This time, the focus is on neo-Classical Stravinsky and early Prokofiev.
Stravinsky’s ballet Apollo is the test of any string orchestra, as it has to encompass quite a range of textural variation, rhythmic acuteness and Apollonian serenity.
Bashmet’s players triumph on all accounts: just listen to the wit they bring to the "Variation de Polymnie" or the gravity with which they inject the final apotheosis. The Concerto in D is just as enjoyable, with rhythms again vividly pointed and the sly ninths of the slow movement winningly phrased.
The Prokofiev is a string-orchestra arrangement of his 20 Visions fugitives for piano, the 15 made by Rudolf Barshai in the early 1960s supplemented by the remaining five in new versions by Roman Balashov. Again the musicians respond well to the terse, quick-change moods of these miniatures with playing of exceptional virtuosity and sense of ensemble."
The Daily Telegraph - 3 March 2007
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