Shostakovich: New Babylon (film music)

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: New Babylon (film music)
PERFORMER: Tatiana Sharova (soprano), Ludmila Kuznetsova (mezzo-soprano), Alexei Martynov (tenor)Russian State SO/Valeri Poliansky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9600
Shostakovich spent a lifetime defying Soviet anti-Semitism. These two discs reveal the same poignant, declamatory, ironic, ‘laughter-through- tears’ language which links works as distanced historically as the Cuba-crisis Babi Yar and From Jewish Folk Poetry – 11 songs written against the ‘musical uproar’ of the 1948 Stalin purges. ‘Art destroys silence,’ he believed; Poliansky and his soloists respond brilliantly. New Babylon from 20 years earlier – parody and pastiche for a ‘revolutionary Romantic’ celluloid-silent set in Paris – gets a terrific performance, too.

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‘Rostropovich performs Shostakovich’ is the marketing angle of the Revelation disc. But it’s Rostropovich’s wife, the ravishingly voiced, theatrically devastating Vishnevskaya, who’s the more memorable presence. Uniquely, the compilation includes the starrily cast first performance of the Blok Romances (recorded in 1967), a cycle, Vishnevskaya maintained, in which Shostakovich seemingly surveyed ‘his life journey as if from the vault of the heavens’. The remastering, however, even allowing for evidently damaged source material, is poor. In Symphony No. 14 (recorded in 1973) the forces are those of the 1969 premiere, but with Rostropovich replacing Barshai. Imperfections aside, it’s an account of electrifyingly physical impact, of extraordinary personal intensity and dedication. (Unlike Chandos, though, there are no texts or translations. Revelation really should look into its packaging policy.) Ates Orga