Shostakovich

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Erato
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: The Execution of Stepan Razin; The Sun Shines over our Motherland; Songs of the Forest
PERFORMER: Konstantin Andrejev (tenor), Alexei Tanovitski (bass); Narva Boys Choir; Estonian Concert Choir; Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: 2564616666

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In the official Soviet cantata stakes, Prokofiev did a better job than Shostakovich, which is no dishonour to either. Public statements bought time for better works, and between the 1948 Zhdanov show trials against ‘formulism in music’ and Stalin’s death in 1953, the party line was unavoidable. Even so, it’s as well that the two time-serving works for chorus and orchestra here are bolstered by a canvas of dark authenticity, The Execution of Stepan Razin. Composed in the shaky freedoms of 1964, it’s an extra movement to the cantata-like 13th Symphony, another setting of a queasily brilliant Yevtushenko poem, with women’s voices joining bass solo and male chorus. Shostakovich’s blackest chant-like writing is doggedly monotonous, broken only by the whoops of the crowd at the cart bearing the far from innocent folk hero Stepan Razin to the scaffold and later by the severed head’s behaviour, embracing a wild woodwind dance and a blistering conclusion.

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Wild, too, is Järvi’s committed marshalling of forces. Bass Alexei Tanovitski could be more nuanced, but there’s no faulting the Estonians’ open, searing sounds. The sequel, sweet clarinets and upper strings at the start of The Sun Shines over our Motherland, was a good idea, though what follows is predictably banal. More variety informs Song of the Forests, which like Prokofiev’s On Guard for Peace embraces sound messages. Shostakovich honours them with a nice transition to the tree-planting of Young Pioneers and a pretty idyll. Bright, open children’s voices join authentic choral fervour and the engineering gives a superb, widescreen picture. David Nice