WORKS: The Execution of Stepan Razin; Two Fables after Krylow; Interludes from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
PERFORMER: Stanislav Suleimanov (bass), Tamara Siniavskaia (mezzo-soprano); Cologne RSO & Chorus/Michail Jurowski
CATALOGUE NO: 10 780
Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem ‘Babi Yar’ is immortalised in Shostakovich’s Thirteenth Symphony; but two years after that Symphony’s premiere, another of his poems landed on Shostakovich’s desk. The dramatic scena for bass, choir and orchestra which Shostakovich crafted from The Execution of Stepan Razin remains less well-known. Part of a Yevtushenko cycle dedicated to those who gave their lives for the ideals embodied in the 1917 Revolution, it focuses on the fate of Don Cossack Stepan who led a peasants’ revolt against the Tsarist boyars in the 17th century. Shostakovich’s musical re-creation of this microcosm of Russian history is characteristically ambivalent, a potent emblem of humanity’s fight against tyranny in whatever form, whatever age. Despite enraging Khrushchev, The Execution, too, received a triumphant premiere.
Shostakovich’s late and graphically spare orchestration lives here in the hard-edged immediacy of the orchestral playing and recording acoustic. Stanislav Suleimanov’s bass embodies both the scorn directed at and felt by the martyred Stepan, though the chorus lacks the savage physicality and ballast that a Russian choir could doubtless have provided.
The cantata is presented in a unique coupling with Shostakovich’s early Two Fables after Krylow: satiric adaptations from Aesop and La Fontaine, with mezzo-soprano Tamara Siniavskaia resonant with rectitude as the Ass of a cultural arbiter. Hilary Finch