Rudolf Barshai & Henryk Górecki, RIP

Rudolf Barshai RIP

I’ve only now found out that Rudolf Barshai, viola player and conductor, died in his home in Switzerland on 2nd November aged 86. I got the news when I went to one of my favourite download sites and found an appreciation to him on the front page. A quick search on the internet brought a number of obituaries, including the New York Times, Gramophone magazine and The Guardian.

The last of these is quite sad when it deals with Barshai’s treatment by the Soviet authorities:

Told that he could go for good or not at all, in 1976 he emigrated to Israel, where he worked with the Israel Chamber Orchestra until 1981. Suddenly, he became a man without a past. The country of his birth disowned him; his name was removed from history books and even from the sleeves of his records; the Borodin Quartet and Moscow Chamber Orchestra toured without mentioning him in their programme material; and when a Soviet biography of Shostakovich was published in the west, Barshai, like his fellow emigres Kondrashin and Rostropovich, was absent from its pages.

I have a personal memory of Rudolf Barshai, who conducted a performance of Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony (Barshai’s arrangement for string orchestra of the composer’s 8th String Quartet) in St Patrick’s Cathedral which I went to with my dad some time in the ’70s. I always had the greatest respect for his music integrity, and was shocked when I heard of his death.


Not a good day in terms of musical demises. Not long after I learned about Rudolf Barshai I got an email about Henryk Górecki, who died today aged 76. As with Barshai, there are lots of obituaries making the rounds for Górecki. By far the most detailed that I’ve come across appeared in The Guardian.

I remember all too well the excessive exposure which the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs went through fifteen years ago or so. I jumped on the bandwagon and bought a copy of the famous Dawn Upshaw/David Zinman recording, but couldn’t stomach it at all and actually returned it to the shop. Hearing about Górecki’s passing I feel a bit guilty now about returning that CD, so to make up in some small way for that, here’s the second of his Three Dances in the Old Style. It’s played by the Warsaw Soloists conducted by Andrzej Mysinski.

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