Opus 42: Five Fragments (1935)

Five Fragments, op. 42 (1935)
CD:  Shostakovich: The Execution of Stepan Razin, etc., Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz (Naxos 8.557812)

For the past few years I’ve been a little bit familiar with the Five Fragments from this album, not that the work demands much familiarity.  But it works well as a companion to the bigger stuff on this album by Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony (a band I still haven’t heard in concert, despite being only one major city away from me), the classical-ouevre equivalent of a B-side, and the musicians give a good account of it.

The five short pieces, sketches for Shostakovich’s upcoming fourth symphony, make a ten-minute exercise in the general style of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, though in their stylistic details they differ somewhat — I imagine Shostakovich was working out a couple of different angles.  The first two fragments point most clearly back at the sound worlds of Lady Macbeth and The Nose, particularly the ominous tension of the former’s first act.  The central Largo, though, achieves something else than the earlier style:  With slow traces of melodic lines and chords hanging in the air as though vaporized, it creates an static, pensive atmosphere that, running for a comparatively long four minutes, anchors the entire set.  The piece that follows it continues in something like the same mood, but with less aim and interest.

Some hard-edged solo fiddling in the final Allegretto shows off a jumpy figure that makes its way in some form into the last movement of the fourth symphony — the only material in the fragments so used, I think — as well as an attitude that comes back in biting folk-dance episodes in several of Shostakovich’s string quartets:

Fun enough stuff; my reaction to it is mainly the same joy of recognition I feel towards anything unmistakably in the composer’s style.

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