Shostakovich: Symphony No 6, Sinfonietta (Quartet No 8, arr. Abram Stasevich) Estonian Festival Orchestra/Paavo Järvi (Alpha Classics)
The one false note here comes in the form of Paavo Järvi’s description of Shostakovich's Symphony No 6, referring to its “air of peculiar lightness.” Hmm, hardly. He certainly doesn't conduct it as if that's what he believes. The lower strings of the Estonian Festival Orchestra lend the downbeat opening astonishing depth of tone, though you might feel that something's being held back. Rightly, Järvi keeps things on a tight leash until the eruption five or so minutes in, the brass powerful enough to strip paint. The bleak mood is sustained brilliantly, before a consolatory horn solo ushers in some of the most ardently romantic music Shostakovich composed. Phenomenal: you might well need a sit down before continuing. What does ensue is a pair of quickfire scherzos, the first dark and mischievous, the second one a raucous gallop. Järvi’s swift speeds push his players to the limit (check out the finale’s opening!) but they’re with him all the way. What to make of the closing pages – exuberant stomp or nervous collapse? I suspect the latter.
The coupling is an arrangement of the iconic Eighth Quartet by the composer’s friend Abram Stasevich. Unlike Barshai’s familiar transcription, this one adds timpani. The results are undeniably exciting, but I'm not totally convinced: too often the drumbeats feel intrusive. The jabbing chords opening the fourth movement are overwhelming, but the same moment sounds more effective on strings alone. As with the symphony, the faster sections enthral. Percussion issues aside, an unmissable, well-engineered disc, though a little short measure at just under 57 minutes.