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Fleishman/Shostakovich: Rothschild's Violin
Shostakovich: The Gamblers

Roman Astakhov, Peter Danailov, Elena Gabouri, Jacek Janiszewski, Andris Lapins, Michal Lehotsky, Piotr Nowacki
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko

Avie Records AV2121 2007

A welcome release from Avie of two interesting works - a recommended addition to any opera collection.

Veniamin Fleishman's one-act opera is sometimes humorous but mostly deeply sorrowful, a wide emotional range packed into its 37 minute span. At his death, Fleishman had completed only the vocal score, the orchestration and completion of the final section being undertaken by Shostakovich, whose preferences in orchestral colour are often discernable, but the harmonic and melodic language is certainly of a different vein. The ending was composed entirely by Shostakovich and is highly reminiscent of the coda to his Symphony No.5.

Fleishman's use of Jewish themes, (such as 40 seconds into track 4,) was to be a seminal influence on Shostakovich (especially the Second Piano Trio , written in 1944, the same year as Shostakovich's completion of Rothschild's Violin .)

Jacek Janiszewski, in the title role of Bronza, has a wonderfully expressive bass voice, characterising the turns of mood succinctly. Michal Lehotsky as Shakhes is dramatic, his vibrato reminding me of Peter Pears. The other singers perform admirably, but these two I would especially love to see live. The orchestral performance is superb, and the production of high quality, orchestral textures well-balanced and captured with clarity. All in all a very satisfying and successful interpretation.

After Lady Macbeth of Mtensk, Shostakovich never completed another opera. He got as far as finishing the first act of The Gamblers, but then abandoned the opera, fearing that it would never work on stage. Composition was begun in 1941, after the completion of the Seventh Symphony. In it, Shostakovich attempted to set Gogol's play of the same name word-for-word, with no adaptation that usually takes place during the creation of a libretto. After finishing the first act, he realised that completing the play would produce an unperformable 7-hour opera, and the experiment came to an end.

Despite this abandonment, the music that Shostakovich completed is of his best quality and deserving of performance in its incomplete state. Very different to Lady Macbeth and Shostakovich's other opera The Nose, it offers a tantalising glimpse of what a later Shostakovich opera might have sounded like. Themes from The Gamblers were lated re-used in the second movement of the Viola Sonata, an important and moving work, so undoubtedly the material was treasured by the composer.

The Gamblers has an all-male cast, yet despite this does not lack variety. Having already nailed my colours to the mast regarding Michal Lehotsky, it will not be surprising to hear that I am a big fan of this recording, which features him in the main role of Ikharyov. This performance features many different, individual voices, all superb and focused on delivering the text. A particular highlight is Piotr Nowacki, producing a beautiful bass sound (for instance at the end of track 6, as he lists the servants in the hotel.)

There are some wonderful orchestral moments too, especially the tuba and balalaika responses in tracks 7-8, and the Handelian cadences of track 13. This is a very imaginative setting of the Gogol text - what a pity that we will never know what other surprises Shostakovich might have sprung on us had he completed the rest of the play!

Aleks Szram

(More information concerning Fleishman can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veniamin_Fleishman)