Shostakovich, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Mussorgsky,Prokofiev,Shostakovich
LABELS: BMG Melodiya
WORKS: Seven Romances to Poems by Alexander Blok; Satires, Op. 109. Songs and Dances of Death (orch. Shostakovich). Five Poems by Anna Akhmatova
PERFORMER: Galina Vishnevskaya (soprano), David Oistrakh (violin), Moisei Vainberg (piano); Gorki State PO/Mstislav Rostropovich (cello, piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 53237 2 ADD
While musicologists continue to cross swords over the degree to which Shostakovich was a dissident composer, there’s little doubt that the vocal works provide more tangible evidence of his ideological stance than the quartets or symphonies. The malicious humour of the Satires, the loneliness and despair exemplified in both the Blok and Tsvetayeva cycles and the defiant repudiation of Stalinist anti-Semitism in From Jewish Folk Poetry are quite unequivocal.

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Jurowski’s disc, although conducted with a degree of urgency, falls down in terms of the vocal soloists. In the Tsvetayeva cycle, Tamara Sinyavskaya fails to sustain the melodic line with the same conviction as Elena Zaremba on the rival DG recording under Neeme Järvi, and co-ordination between voice and orchestra is ragged in places. Worse, however, follows in the Romances, where bass Stanislav Suleimanov sounds far too unwieldy and bereft of tone by comparison with the wonderfully resonant Sergei Leiferkus (also on DG). Although From Jewish Folk Poetry has more eloquent moments, this release is rather disappointing.

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BMG Melodiya, however, have really come up trumps with their remastered recordings of the Sixties world premieres of the Songs and Dances of Death (in Shostakovich’s orchestration) and the Blok cycle. The sound is remarkably good for the period, and Vishnevskaya characterises the music with unparalleled conviction and sensitivity. It’s evident too that the normally bronchial Russian audiences were enthralled by the experience, and one must remain grateful that the Soviet authorities preserved such epoch-making performances for posterity. Erik Levi