The Chamber Symphony
carries a dedication to Rudolf Barshai, for whose Moscow Chamber Orchestra it was composed in 1967 (these being the same musicians for whom Shostakovich was soon to compose his Fourteenth Symphony). Its six movements are tightly focused, wiry and determined in character, rather in the manner of Shostakovich’s then brand-new Eleventh Quartet and of Britten’s instrumental music (another comparative novelty for Soviet composers at the time). The opening Sonata is in reality more of a prelude, its material being spun entirely from the initial downward strides on horns, violas and cellos with harpsichord punctuation, expanded on by crunchy grimacing chords for the violins. The following Unison displays affinities with Britten’s Second String Quartet and Panufnik’s Sinfonia Sacra
and is even more austere than the Sonata, not just because it sticks so doggedly to the premise of its title, but also because of its fascination with symmetrical formations of intervals. The third movement is an angular, dissonant take on the idea of the four-voiced Chorale, juxtaposing pairs of oboes and horns, solo strings and harpsichord. Anchored to the double basses’ pedal A, the Interlude adopts a faux-naif tone; the longer it goes on the more intriguing, perhaps even disturbing, its little snatches of melody become. The most sustained musical development is to be found in March Motifs, which accumulates an impressive momentum in spite of its splintered surface character. The Symphony is then rounded off by a Serenade, but one that, like similarly titled movements in early and late Shostakovich, is not all that it seems. What to some may appear ‘harmonious and reconciling’ (to quote a Russian commentator) may to others sound like something altogether more ambivalent.
from notes by David Fanning © 2004