The Strad Issue: January 2012
Description: A collection of Shostakovich’s music for viola that extends beyond the valedictory sonata
Musicians: Lawrence Power (viola) Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano)
Composer: Shostakovich (arr. Strakhov and Borisovsky)

Shostakovich wrote just one piece for the viola – his very last one, the Sonata op.147, completed just days before his death in August 1975. All the same, he was friendly with several important Russian viola players, and gave them a free hand in arranging such compositions of his as they saw suitable. Vadim Borisovsky, the ‘father of the Russian viola school’ and – as a member of the Beethoven Quartet – protagonist of numerous Shostakovich premieres, transcribed, among other things, several movements from the music to the film The Gadfly. Borisovsky’s student Yevgeny Strakhov adapted a few of the piano Preludes op.34.

Both transcriptions are beautifully tailored for the viola, with keys cannily chosen to highlight its tonal colours and special effects (The Gadfly’s ‘Barrel-Organ Waltz’ is set mainly in natural harmonics). Sadly, only five of the nine Gadfly movements are included here, although there would have been room for all. This being Shostakovich in a mock-bel canto vein, Lawrence Power freely indulges his sensuous, deep-brown tone in the famous Romance, while whizzing through the following ‘Folk Festival’ in record time.

In the Viola Sonata Power is up against fierce competition, not least from the piece’s dedicatee, Fedor Druzhinin, and his pupil Yuri Bashmet. By comparison with those uniquely authoritative, idiomatic interpretations, Power and Simon Crawford-Phillips can sound all-purpose in their expressivity. Nevertheless, theirs is a most impressive rendering of the score’s unique sound world, faithfully caught by Hyperion’s engineering.

Carlos María Solare