Shostakovich: Songs, Vol. 1: 1950-56

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Delos
WORKS: Songs, Vol. 1: 1950-56
PERFORMER: Victoria Evtodieva (soprano), Natalia Biryukova (mezzo-soprano), Mikhail Lukonin (baritone), Fyodor Kuznetsov (bass), Yuri Serov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: DE 3304
It’s an unusually bold step to launch the first volume of Shostakovich’s complete songs with music written during the early Fifties. This was one of the most difficult periods in the composer’s life, when he struggled to come to terms with the tragic consequences of public censorship at the hands of Stalin’s cultural apparatchiks. Shostakovich had to write numerous film scores and propagandist choral works to sustain some kind of income, while the complex Fourth and Fifth String Quartets remained locked in his drawer, only being performed in public after Stalin’s death.

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To a certain extent the songs also manifest this tension between public and private aspirations. On the one hand, there are the Dolmatovsky settings, which are pleasantly melodious, but remain disturbingly rooted to a bland 19th-century harmonic idiom. These form a striking contrast to the bleak and depressing Pushkin monologues or the powerful Lermontov Romances where Shostakovich’s authorship can be recognised in every anguished bar. The arrangements of Greek and Spanish folksongs stand somewhere between these two extremes, the latter collection demonstrating the greater ingenuity in its absorption of exotic material.

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Pianist Yuri Serov has assembled a highly experienced group of singers, though Natalia Biryukova and Victoria Evtodieva are more consistent than Fyodor Kuznetsov, whose intonation is occasionally wayward. The recording places the voices rather nearer to the microphone than the piano, but the ambience remains warm. Erik Levi