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Three Must-Have Shostakovich Recordings

Immersing yourself in Dmitri Shostakovich's complete works would take days, but familiarizing yourself with his music should take no more than an afternoon. And it will not be painful.

Simon Morrison, a Russian music scholar at Princeton University, says Shostakovich "was a composer interested in social discourse. He sought to engage, rather than alienate, his audiences."

Morrison picks three of the most engaging Shostakovich pieces, noting that "these three works, clustered relatively close together in Shostakovich's career, represent the different facets of his general style."

The Style: Subversive Neoclassicism

The Composition: Third String Quartet in F Major, 1946 — "A typical early piece," says Morrison, noting that there's "almost an element of ugliness built into the texture" of the music.

Must-Have CD: Shostakovich: The String Quartets by the Emerson String Quartet, which won 2 Grammys for a 5-disc box set featuring all of Shostakovich's 15 string quartets.

The Style: Bombastic (and Marvelously Noisy) Heroism

The Composition: Fifth Symphony, 1937 — A "landmark heroic period piece" that was Shostakovich's attempt to "conform to Soviet-era symphonies," says Morrision. The traditional structure and instrumentation evoke a "narrative representation of a hero's life and death."

Must-Have CD: Shostakovich: Symphonie, No. 5, Op. 47 by Yevgeny Mravinsky

The Style: Brooding Introspection

The Composition: Piano Trio in E Minor, 1944 — A "masterpiece of compelling dark somber melodic lines" that suggests a "tragic, internal depression," says Morrison. He notes that the melody is beautiful and the texture beguiling.

Must-Have CD: Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky: Trios by Argerich, Kremer and Maisky

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Melody Joy Kramer