Firma Melodiya presents a unique boxed set with recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies 1 to 8 conducted by Rudolf Barshai. One of the most prominent representatives of domestic music performing art of the 20th century, Rudolf Barshai was a man of amazingly versatile talents. His character combined obsession of a seeker and explorer of new sides to performance with an aspiration for his own creative way avoiding a bitten path.
Founded in 1931, the Bolshoi Theater Quartet continued to be the chamber music face of the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra until it finally disbanded in 1968. During that time, it focused largely on – not surprisingly – the quartet literature of the Russian masters.
This CD, recorded in the early 1960-ies is a real treasure. Beside Menuhin's superb performance, it has something really unique - Barshai's Viola playing! His rare recording truly makes this CD one of the best releases of Mozart's music, especially Symphonia Concertante.
Rudolf Barshai's Mahler Fifth earned a "10" for artistic quality when it first appeared on Laurel Records, and its reappearance at budget price, more readily available, should win this magnificent performance many more friends. But the main event here has to be Barshai's own orchestration of the unfinished Tenth Symphony, heavily scored for a huge orchestra that doesn't sound especially Mahlerian (at this stage in his career Mahler's own scoring would have been much leaner and more economical), but nevertheless played to the hilt by Barshai and his remarkable youth ensemble.
The first movement in particular has the most hair-raisingly terrifying climax that anyone has ever achieved from this music. Part of the effect may derive from Barshai's fuller instrumentation and bolder dynamics, and you can't help but notice the date of this live performance: September 12, 2001. Whatever the reason, the entire reading has tremendous intensity and conviction, though as with all arrangers of this work Barshai hasn't quite solved the problem of the finale's quick middle section and the return of the first-movement climax–nor perhaps (at this stage of composition) had Mahler. Also, despite enthusiastic and committed playing from the orchestra, the ensemble is a touch less steady than in the Fifth (nothing serious, just noted in comparison), and the sonics are a bit more opaque. Never mind: this is essential listening for Mahlerians and is self-recommending, particularly at the Brilliant Classics price. – David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com