Shostakovich/Prokofiev: Song of the Forests; On Guard for Peace

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich/Prokofiev
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Song of the Forests; On Guard for Peace
PERFORMER: Ziata Bulitcheva (mezzo-soprano), Sergei Kisseliev (tenor), Gennadi Bezzubenko (baritone), etc; Boys Choir of Glinka College, St Petersburg Chorus &PO/ Yuri Temirkanov
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68877 2
Musical life in the Soviet Union struck a reef after Zhdanov’s 1948 rally against ‘formalism’ in music. Shostakovich kept all his most meaningful scores under wraps; Prokofiev ventured a complex masterpiece – the Symphony-Concerto – only after the failure of several accomplished party-line works. Here, both composers avoid the musical doggerel merited by garish ideological texts. Both works can, after all, place some faith in the very necessary task of postwar reconstruction. The people of Stalingrad were heroic; the Soviet population genuinely wanted peace (though not, of course, Stalin himself, engineering a Third World War via a second Holocaust at the time of his death).

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There are plentiful samples of what each composer does best. Shostakovich caps Mussorgskian lament and brightest celebratory vein with superbly constructed fugal writing worthy of his predecessor Taneyev, while Prokofiev sticks to his Soviet-era vein of broad melodising scored with rich variety (there’s even a hint of the American-era Kurt Weill in the second children’s song). Temirkanov and the sound-team draw handsome results from Russian forces, exercising more restraint than Rozhdestvensky and Melodiya in an earlier On Guard for Peace long unavailable on CD. Here the original text’s salutes to Stalin have been reinstated – though the speaker in the ninth section reads a rebuke to warmongering America from a later era, quite different from the booklet text. David Nice