ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich: The Golden Age
WORKS: The Golden Age
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/José Serebrier
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570217-8
Has Shostakovich’s first fulllength ballet had more than its fair share of hearings? Its caricatural conflict between wholesome Soviet sportsmen and decadent westerners, with their foxtrots, tangos and can-cans, may not have survived the 1930 premiere, the numbertitles of which have been used in Naxos’s presentation (Shostakovich originally set his music to a rather different scenario). But there have, at least, been two Russian revivals, the latest in 2006, which played around with the full score, and now two recordings which, give or take the cut of a repeat or two, respect its meandering intentions.
It took the special creative energy of Gennady Rozhdestvensky back in 1993 to carry off those long stretches where nothing much, melodically speaking, seems to be happening. José Serebrier doesn’t quite achieve that, and his curiously flaccid RSNO strings are a liability, especially in the early stages. But the orchestral brass and woodwind are their usual characterful selves, and there are also some splendid knees-ups in the big ensemble numbers. Simon Haram’s soprano saxophone makes the most of the Diva’s languorous adagio, and there’s rude, healthy low trombone playing in the scene of the footballers’ last-Act liberation from prison, a powerful sequence which reminds us that the upheavals of the Fourth Symphony were only just around the corner. Rozhdestvensky’s tighter sound has the edge over this reverberant recording, which sounds more like a diffuse throwback to Chandos’s glory days in Scotland when Neeme Järvi ruled the roost. Serebrier may not be quite in the same class, but there’s enough vividness in the ballet’s fitful highlights to make this a bargain. David Nice