Although Rudolf Barshai has made countless recordings - the most important of his current projects is a complete cycle of the fifteen Shostakovich symphonies with the Cologne Radio Orchestra - he always kept aloof from the media circus. Eminently serious, he shuns any form of glitz and glamour, and is not one of the jet-setting conductors that constantly dash round the world performing under-rehearsed programmes. Barshai's name stands for the masterful realisation of the composer's will; a principled advocate of their ideas, he dedicates his legendary ability to rapidly mould an orchestra's sound to his conceptions to one sole purpose: achieving clarity and focus.That extract comes from a 1999 profile of Rudolf Barshai (1924-2010) by Bernd Feuchtner. The profile appears in the booklet for the cycle of Shostakovich symphonies Barshai recorded with the Cologne Radio Orchestra (now WDR Sinfonieorchester) between 1992 and 2000 which was released by Brilliant Classics in 2002. Conductor and orchestra may be short on glitz and glamour, but Barshai's Shostakovich cycle is, for me, one of classical music's great overlooked achievements. Holistic is a grossly abused word today, but here we have a genuine example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. That is not to say the parts are in any way lacking: Barshai's Shostakovich comes with the composer's blessing, the WDR Sinfonieorchester puts many of its less rehearsed but more glamorous cousins in the shade, and the full-bodied sound from tonmeister Siegfried Spittler, who engineered all fifteen symphonies in the warm acoustic of the Philharmonie Hall, Cologne, is demonstration quality. And the eleven CDs - which are presented in chronological order without splitting any of the symphonies across discs and which come with full programme notes - cost the same as two full-price CDs from more glamorous orchestras and conductors. As a reviewer wrote about another Brilliant Classics box from a low-glitz orchestra and conductor, buy or live in darkness.
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