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Shostakovich: Jazz Suites Nos. 1 and 2

You can call just about anything you want jazz, but that doesn’t mean anyone has to listen when you do. Someone should have explained this to Dmitri Shostakovich. A Soviet composer best known for his symphonies and string quartets, Shostakovich was also one of a long line of composers who took it upon themselves to elevate jazz from cafe music to a more serious status, as the liner notes to the present recording put it. Thanks, but no thanks, Dmitri.

Shostakovich’s first “Jazz Suite” was written in 1934 for a Leningrad competition designed to encourage composers in this task. It is not jazz. It is completely without rhythmic subtlety; its attempts at blues in the opening waltz and the closing foxtrot (blues) are embarrassingly ersatz. And its middle movement is a polka. The second “Jazz Suite,” from four years later, is subtitled “Suite for Stage Variety Orchestra,” which is far more accurate than the title itself in describing this sugary, cute, lighter-than-air music.

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