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Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a

There are numerous arrangements of Shostakovich's eighth string quartet. One which became particularly famous was the arrangement of the viola player and conductor Rudolf Barshai, which Shostakovich "authorized" and which he included in his own catalogue of works as the "Chamber Symphony, Opus 110a".

Barshai, one of the founders of the Borodin Quartet and long-time conductor of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, who had been in close artistic and friendly contact with the composer since 1946, wrote about the creation of the Chamber Symphony: "Shortly after the premiere of the eighth string quartet in 1960, the music publisher Peters commissioned me to work on it for string orchestras. Since I knew Shostakovich's views on arrangements of all kinds (frankly, he was quite skeptical about them), I first sought his approval. When I finished the score, I showed it to him. He liked it very much, and with his own sense of humor and exuberance, he shouted: 'Well, that sounds better than the original. We will give the piece a new name: Chamber Symphony, Opus 110a.'"

Barshai followed Shostakovich's quartet template in every detail. The full string orchestra with its additional double basses gives its arrangement a fuller, symphonic sound impression. At the same time, Barshai differentiated the sound of the original string quartet: the voice groups of the string orchestra are sometimes divided within themselves, thus enabling more subtle shades of sound.

The Chamber Symphony enjoyed great popularity from the beginning. It contributed significantly to the fame of the quartet and may even be heard more frequently today than the quartet itself. Barshai and his Moscow Chamber Orchestra played a major part in this, playing the work on tours all over the world. As a "thank you", Shostakovich composed his fourteenth symphony for Barshai and his musicians in 1969.

Barshai, who later edited other Shostakovich quartets for chamber orchestras, has recorded the chamber symphony several times for vinyl or CD, including with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe for Deutsche Grammophon (1989).