ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich: Six Romances on Verses by English Poets
WORKS: Six Romances by W Raleigh, R Burns and W Shakespeare, Op. 62a; Annie Laurie, Scottish Ballad (Orch. Shostakovich); Suite on Poems by Michelangelo Buonarroti, Op. 145a
PERFORMER: Gerald Finley (bass-baritone); Helsinki Philharmonic/Thomas Sanderling
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1235-2
This disc claims to comprise only world premiere recordings. It might be the first performance of the colossal Michelangelo Suite sung in the original Italian/Florentine, and Shostakovich’s chaste arrangement of the Scots ballad ‘Annie Laurie’ is new to me, but I thought Sergei Leiferkus and Neeme Järvi had recorded the orchestral version of the composer’s self-styled ‘British songs’ setting of Raleigh, Burns and Shakespeare.
Amazingly, it transpires there are two orchestrations, one made for chamber forces at the end of Shostakovich’s life, and another with larger instrumentation from around the time of composing the romances in 1943. That great if under-recorded conductor Thomas Sanderling discovered that the manuscript had only recently come to light, and the result is this superlative document.
Gerald Finley’s is a lighter bass-baritone voice than Leiferkus’s, and quite different from the basses – Nesterenko, Tomlinson, Abradzakov – who have recorded the Michelangelo Suite in Russian. But everything here works beautifully. Finley and Sanderling drive home the climactic phrase of Shostakovich’s Shakespeare sonnet, ‘And art made tongue-tied by authority’, while the voice meshes beautifully with the exquisite instrumentation of ‘Sir Walter Raleigh to His Sonne’ and ‘Jenny’, a rare miniature diamond. The English and Scots words fit beautifully, and Michelangelo’s sensuous language warms the austerity of the late masterpiece. Finley, a one-time student of medieval Italian, has worked with Stephen Higgins on the placement of stresses in the text. And the orchestral partnership is beautifully honed.