CD Reviews 36
§ Twenty-Seven Romances and Songs, sans opus J, Nikolay Khondzinsky, Soloists of the Russkaya Conservatoria, Chamber Capella; Ayako Tanabe, Alexander Yuts and Ivan Ivanov (violin), Valery Masterov and Valery Verstyuk
§ = World Première Recording
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New Babylon, opus 18
Mark Fitz-Gerald, Basel Sinfonietta
Naxos 8.572824-5. Two discs. DDD. TT 91:24
Recorded Volkshaus, Basel, Switzerland. 1–3 May 2011
World premiere recording of all the surviving music
Naxos has released another significant CD of Shostakovich’s film music, a complete recording of his first score, New Babylon. Previous releases of Shostakovich’s film music on Naxos include complete recordings of The Fall of Berlin (8.570238), Alone (8.570316), andHamlet (or, at least as complete as possible in that instance – 8.557446). This recording by the Basel Sinfonietta, led by conductor Mark Fitz-Gerald, states that it is the ‘World Premiere Recording of the Complete Score.’ A recording of this film music released in 1990 on the Capriccio label (C10341-42, recently released in a box set of film scores Capriccio C49533) also states that it is ‘The World Premiere Recording of the Complete Score.’ What is the real story? How can two pieces both be touting world premiere recordings? The significant aspect of the Naxos recording, as the back cover states, is that it ‘is the first complete recording of all of the surviving music from the original ‘lost’ manuscript full score and the first to use five solo string players only, as conceived by the composer.’ In addition to the standard eight reels, this new recording also includes an additional four minutes worth of music, including the “original ending” that was cut from the film and cut from the publication of the score. In fact, it does not even appear in the New Collected Works edition; that score, like earlier publications, ends with motion, harmonically, from IV6 – Ger+6 – cadential six-four, the chords E-flat major, in first inversion, G-flat major-minor seven, and B-flat major, in second inversion. Even Shostakovich in his youth, working with FEKS, wouldn’t have ended anything on a cadential six-four. I had the opportunity to see the music played live at the premiere of Marek Pytel’s reconstruction in Chicago in January of 2007, heard the final harmonic progression, and thought that surely more music existed that was played, because what I heard, and what was published in the score, was not an ending. This recording presents the first opportunity to hear the music beyond the familiar ending point, and one that will likely provide a satisfying conclusion to many listeners.
As the music from this film has been reviewed in many locations, including DSCH 10 (by Louis Blois) and 27 (by John Riley), the content of the music does not need much of a further introduction. Blois states that the music to New Babylon contains ‘nervous, densely packed lyricism and effortless manoeuvring of rapid episodic changes,’ as well as ‘what must have been the young composer’s greatest musical joy at the time, the expression of outrageous sarcasm and grotesque humour in an endless stream of lyrical wit.’ The typical musical gestures that identify Shostakovich’s early musical style are all evident in his first film score.
Immediately the listener can recognise the chamber size of the orchestra in the Naxos recording, especially when compared with earlier recordings, particularly the James Judd-led recording on Capriccio (reviewed by Blois). The Naxos recording maintains the tempo of the first reel of Judd’s recording, both of which are significantly faster than the Frank Strobel-led Hänssler recording (CD93.188, reviewed by Riley). The Hänssler recording is mixed in such a way that, as a listener, it feels as though you are sitting within the orchestra – a very close sound. The Naxos recording feels a bit more distant; perhaps not ‘far away,’ but appropriately distant, as though one is listening from the middle of the theatre, and the chamber orchestra is near the screen.
Because of the chamber ensemble, each individual part’s performance becomes that much more prominent and exposed. To that end, the clarinettist, Etele Dosa, performed superbly throughout the entire recording. The trumpets and percussion are also must be celebrated for their outstanding performances over the full recording. However, problems of execution are also present. In some places, such as Reel 2, offbeats became so late that they nearly turned into downbeats. In other locations, the intonation between instruments is a bit off, an aspect that a larger ensemble can mask, but in the intimacy of fourteen players, stands out significantly. In the large scope, though, the performance is done exceptionally well, and the parts are commonly clean, precise, and without problem, and the tempos and dynamics are all appropriate.
Of course, what most listeners (and readers, I suspect) will want to hear is the conclusion of Reel 8, the music after ‘the ending.’ Much of this music has been published as ‘Fragment 3’ in the Appendix to the New Collected Works, volume 122. On a first listen, I too was quite excited, and anticipated hearing the complete cadence following the six-four chord, but it was not revelatory. The cadence arrived as I had expected, through years of musical training. Still, it was odd, at first, to hear the music continue past the old conclusion. Of the nearly four minutes of music, much of it maintains the atmosphere of defeat created throughout Reel 8. This section contains a great deal of brooding music, particularly helped through low sustained notes, and only momentarily broken by pizzicatos in the upper strings and staccato flute and glockenspiel notes. The reel concludes with an attempted fanfare in the brass, accompanied by frantic strings, and octave Cs played tutti, emphasizing the unhappy ending: as Riley writes in the notes, Jean is ’emotionally crushed, but a paternalistic sergeant tells him that he will get used to such things.’ The published music in the Appendix does not contain the final thirty seconds of Reel 8 (for the recording Fitz-Gerald recycled a few bars from reel four and the music for Salute to Spain) , but this is still an extremely exciting and significant scholarly piece of the Shostakovich puzzle.
Without spending an extraordinary amount of time on the issue of projection speeds, a few words must be dedicated to this issue. The film continues to be shown at speeds ranging from 20 frames per second (fps) to 24 fps, and not always at a consistent speed. Marek Pytel has written an open letter to Pordenone Festival Director David Robinson in which he expresses his disappointment that New Babylon was shown at Pordenone at 20 fps, rather than the, according to Pytel, 24 fps that Shostakovich assumed the projection speed to be in 1929. Between the omitted footage, alterations in intertitles, and synchronization of music and image, these are the issues that have led to multiple versions of the “complete score,” and to the multiply available versions of the film throughout the years. A detailed version of the controversy, including Pytel’s open letter, can be found at:
The CD comes with a twenty-page booklet that discusses FEKS and New Babylon, the historical background of the Paris commune, the creation of the film and its score, a brief discussion of the music itself, and a complete synopsis of the film, reel by reel. Three different people, Nina Goslar, John Riley, and David Robinson, contribute to these notes. Additionally, the conductor offers his notes on the music and this specific recording. The information contained within the booklet is nicely readable and offers insights for those unfamiliar with the work, as well as those who know which reel(s) contain the ‘can-can.’ The notes also include a description of the ‘coda’ to Reel 8. Clearly, this ‘coda’ could not be officially released at the time, as the political implications would have been damaging to all parties.
Although it appears as though a universally accepted edition of the film New Babylon will never appear, with or without a music-track, this new Naxos recording of Shostakovich’s music is likely as close to a ‘complete’ edition as is possible. A seven-minute video of a recording session has been officially placed on YouTube by Naxos, and can be accessed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKQsTt6lk0o. As part of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, a four-minute conversation with conductor Mark Fitz-Gerald can also be seen on YouTube at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QujUtrJ08Is. This recording, due to its sound quality, academic and research content, and liner notes, has won universal praise, so much so that Nick Barnard of MusicWeb International (www.musicweb-international.com) named it as one of his 2011 ‘Recordings of the Year.’ I will continue to add admiration for this recording, especially because, as a university professor, archival research is a necessity for my line of work, so I find a great deal of personal satisfaction in hearing Shostakovich’s original ending. I know that everyone will enjoy hearing this ending as well.
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Symphony No 4, opus 43
Daniel Raiskin, combined Rhenish State Philharmonic Orchestra and Mainz State Philharmonic Orchestra.
AVI 8553235. DDD. TT 65:54
Recorded live at Phönix-Halle Mainz; and Rhein-Mosel-Halle, Koblenz, 19-20 March 2009.
Given the length of Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, and its notorious intractability, conductor Daniel Raiskin’s first recorded entry into the Shostakovich repertoire is nothing short of remarkable. The performance is all the more remarkable in that a relatively unknown conductor conducting a relatively unknown orchestra delivers one the most stunning performances ever of a Shostakovich symphony.
The orchestra in question is not even an integrated unit, but the combined forces of the Mainz PO and the Rhenish PO, Mr. Raiskin having been chief conductor of the latter since 2005. It’s no surprise to learn that Raiskin was born and trained in St. Petersburg, as he elicits from these merged German bands a tempestuous style of performance that is reminiscent of Russian ensembles.
Performances of the Shostakovich Fourth fall somewhere between two opposite poles of interpretation, as represented by the landmark recordings of Mark Wigglesworth (BIS SACD 1553, reviewed in DSCH 32) on one end and Kyrill Kondrashin (currently available in Melodiya’s box set MEL CD 10 01065) on the other. At the Wigglesworth end, the individual moods and lyrical contours of this sprawling canvas are prised apart in gloriously examined detail. At the Kondrashin end, we find a breathtaking do-or-die momentum, a take-no-prisoners approach to the work that never looks back. Raiskin draws on the best features of both performances. While the timings of Raiskin’s movements (28:03, 9:01, 28:20) fall closer to those of Wigglesworth’s (29:27, 8:45, 28:00), the temperament of the performance is more aligned with that of Kondrashin’s bracing account (25:57, 8:02, 25:21).
At 39, Raiskin is the youngest conductor, along with Simon Rattle (07243 5554 7620), to have recorded the Fourth. The work was written by a young man of 29, and perhaps it takes another young man to fully release its angry demons. One has to look back to Rozhdestvensky (who was 47 when he first recorded the Fourth) to find a version whose percussive accents are so acutely pronounced as they are here, though at 55, Bychkov puts together quite a rhythmically robust version, (AVIE 2114, reviewed in DSCH 27). It is through those accents that Raiskin, in his far more driven account, reaches stunning levels of intensity, achieving one of the most barbaric interpretations of this sprawling masterpiece.
The punctuation points in the harrowing introductory passages will send jolts to the listener’s perineum. In the section that follows, the pounding marcato strokes on the snare drum and timpani are thrust into the foreground. Nowhere in the nearly dozen renditions surveyed are these strokes are executed so exhilaratingly. We may hear similar levels of reinforcement in the Rozhdestvensky version, though not quite as much in Haitink’s watchfully phrased rendition with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Decca 00289-475 7413, reviewed in DSCH 31), nor in Järvi’s more spirited account (CHAN 8640), not even in the recklessly paced version of Myung-Whun Chung (447 759-2, reviewed in DSCH 17). Kondrashin imparts his own brand of emphasis with a slight but quickened pace at the snare drum juncture.
The connection between Kondrashin’s and Raiskin’s performances has all to do with those intensified moments. They not only provide structural definition of exceptional clarity, they serve as formidable benchmarks of arrival and catharsis. In the long crescendo where the brass steadily climb the chromatic scale (fig. 47), Raiskin eases the pace so that the anguished slope is elongated. Then, at this precipitous summit, he adds a flourish of intensification, a potent crown of arrival that gives purchase to the moment. In other rhythmically prominent passages, such as the nakedly exposed iambic strokes on the timpani (fig. 27 + 4), or the rhythmic underlining of the post-fugue section, or even the quieter thumping of the bass drum (fig. 103) in the recapitulation, the percussive wallops are delivered with singular intensity. The mighty central fugue and its aftermath are brought off with startling power and precision.
Raiskin is equally engaged in the quieter portions. The wistful pockets of lyricism and passages of grotesque humour breathe with a sense of purpose. The dreamy solos for cor anglais and violin in the latter portion of movement are given poignant attention. There is the sense throughout that Raiskin has thoroughly internalised the work’s titanic contradictions and wildly contrasting episodes and pulled them together with crisp penetrating vision. That mighty challenge is not always realised, as testified by Gergiev’s rather operatic account (470 842-2, reviewed in DSCH 22).
In the tight reins of the second movement, the peaks are again strongly accented, the rhythmic gestures emphatic. The ever-shifting complexions of the obsessive four-note theme are drawn with nuance and agility. While lacking the warmth found in Jarvi and Haitink, Raiskin’s strings bring out the edginess and nervous reactivity of the music. As a result, when the theme’s anxiety levels rise and fall, and then suddenly erupt at breaking points, they do so with hair-raising impact. The broad counter-theme soars as it urgently cries.
In the multi-sectional final movement, Raiskin again leads an electrifying performance, accentuating the points of demarcation, both within and between the contrasting episodes. The Mahlerian funeral march that begins as a lugubrious bassoon solo escalates to a ferocious peak. When the galumphing footsteps in the lower strings introduce the next section, they do so with massive force. The pace picks up at the onset of the interlocking zigzag figures, which lumber along to another powerful climax. The wistful and whimsical paragraphs that follow invoke a captivating balance of delicacy and madness, and are also marked by strongly flagged boundaries. Some may find the points of accentuation a little overheated for their own good. Yet as in the previous movements, they are well judged in their ability to elicit a strong sense of architectural clarity. Raiskin steers the music down a taut, labyrinthine path from the ecstatic little dance on the solo bassoon, to the solo trombone’s fragmented bleating, to the shattering climax that forms the symphony’s capstone. The section leading to that final upheaval is introduced with a massive shudder, as if a blast furnace had just been opened. It is one of the many memorable moments in this very memorable performance.
The players of the combined Mainz/Rhenish ensembles deliver a performance of precision and passion. It is captured with sound engineering that is just as praiseworthy. With a moderate amount of headroom, the recording leans toward the bright side, lending razor-sharp definition to every cross-rhythm and inner voice, and offering an uncommon level of clarity.
This is a performance that delivers on all levels and is not to be missed by devotees of the composer. One awaits with anticipation the further contributions of Daniel Raiskin to the Shostakovich discography.
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Symphony 5, opus 47
Leonard Bernstein, London Symphony Orchestra
DVD (NTSC, region 0). Idéale Audience 3085318. TT: 46:23. Rehearsal footage: 5:45.
Recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall, London, December 1966.
Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony was one of Bernstein’s signature works, and he left several recordings, usually of live performances, some of which are almost mandatory purchases. His October 1959 traversal with the New York Philharmonic quickly became a classic and has stayed in the catalogue, with different couplings, pretty much constantly, helped by the much-quoted approval of the composer (though it is sometimes hard to judge how deeply meant such praise was). It has just been re-released on Regis RRC 1377 and has overshadowed another, similar one from the Salzburg Festival on 16 August 1959 (Orfeo C 819 101 B). Twenty years later came a recording taken from two live performances in Tokyo – the same run produced a DVD (Kultur 032031135598). Lesser known is a broadcast from 28 January 1945 (Symposium 1295), while various bootlegs may or may not be what they claim.
(Mostly) new to the catalogue and undoubtedly authentic is a live performance at the Royal Festival Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra, filmed by the BBC in December 1966 and broadcast on 8 January 1967. They also filmed part of the rehearsal and six minutes of that footage is presented as an extra on the DVD.
Glancing at the timings of the movements it’s clear that this performance is broadly in line with the, by then, seven year-old NYPO recording – with one interesting exception. So, if you have the one, is it worth investing in the other?
The first thing to note is in the opening, where the NYPO has greater weight, a feature of their recording in general. The LSO opens half a notch faster but the real difference comes with the descending melody at figure 1 where the violins steal in more ethereally and are warmer than the chilled and steely New Yorkers. The LSO horns’ first entry at bar 37 is a little unsteady and their few contributions until their ff breakthrough just after figure 17 have a slightly parp-y quality – in fact, it was not a great night for them in general, though they are still very good. Against that, the woodwind are uniformly excellent; the flute marvellously concentrated in its own reverie and the clarinet beautifully warm and round. Both performances have the alternating pushes forward and pulls back in the run up to the climax, after which the LSO’s flute has a strange disconnected quality that later morphs into numbness, before an oddly forceful celeste seems to drive the movement to its end.
If the woodwind tone is attractive in the first movement, encompassing both roundness and coolness, in the second movement they are not as squealy as in some performances. This downplays the violence and the fact that the coda goes through without a ritardando adds to the feeling of brusqueness.
The third movement is the heart of any Bernstein recording of the Fifth and he brings out his characteristic “drenched” string sound in an incredibly intense, almost religious performance. It has some extreme dynamic changes but avoids the 1959 recording’s occasional feeling of ‘milking it’. A couple of oddities: at figure 80 the second flute line comes through much more strongly than in any other recording that I’ve heard, and at figures 81 and 93, where the violins divide into three, the top line is almost inaudible. Whether that’s Bernstein’s intention or a failure of the miking isn’t clear but it leaves a curious sense of incompleteness, through the heart-breaking consolatory quality of the end makes us forget that.
Some conductors like to press through, almost attacca, into the finale (though the score has no such instruction). It’s not quite clear what Bernstein did here – as with the pauses between the other movements the screen goes momentarily black but the audience noise (probably regenerated from elsewhere) continues.
Bernstein was of course the great exponent of the ‘fast ending’, though even without the faulty metronome marking, the composer’s ‘non troppo‘ qualification should have been a warning. It’s no surprise to find him following it here. In fact, at 9:27 one could say that he was reining things in – in 1959 it took 8:58 and the 1945 recording comes in at a scorching 8:28! Those who argue that the fast ending is an ironic expression of “forced rejoicing” are welcome to their opinion but on this DVD Bernstein’s delirious expression implies that he wouldn’t agree – he’s clearly playing it straight. Perhaps he didn’t notice that the bass drum completely drowns the timpanist leaving an impression of a string of As and no Ds!
The DVD has six chapters – one for each movement plus brief opening and closing credits. The rehearsal footage covers sections of the first and third movements with Bernstein urging the orchestra to greater songfulness, throwing himself about, walking around the podium and stamping and singing to get the result he wants. In a brief introduction on the soundtrack Bernstein points to the Russian-ness of the work and a little later he speculates that his Russian heritage gave him a particular affinity to Russian works. It is subtitled in French and German. There are also some trailers for other Idéale DVDs including snippets of Bernstein rehearsing and conducting Shostakovich’s First Symphony with the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra and horribly mashed selections from the First Violin Concerto performed by Hilary Hahn with the Berlin Philharmonic under Maris Jansons.
The original broadcast’s director, Humphrey Burton, was a long-time friend of the conductor and became his biographer, but the filming is no hagiography and gives appropriate time to the orchestra and the various soloists. Shot on film, the images are clear and the transfer to DVD good, with acceptable mono sound. There are a few audience coughs and some podium noises including a rather odd gulping early in the adagio but no more than you would expect in any live recording.
Some of this enormously powerful performance was also released on the DVD The Art of Conducting so to finally have the whole thing is excellent though it would be good to see more of the rehearsal footage (it fades out rather inconsequentially). Nevertheless, a release to be welcomed.
 Also from 1979, there are two bootlegs, purporting to be performances with the Vienna Philharmonic dating from 27 and 28 May, but the wildly divergent timings for each movement make it almost impossible to believe that both (or either?) are what they claim to be.
 A live performance of the adagio only, again with the LSO, recorded on 13 August 1975 appeared on the somewhat mysterious GNP label at some point. As the composer had died just a few days earlier this was a ‘memorial’ opener to a concert otherwise devoted to Bernstein, Mozart and Sibelius.
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Symphony No. 6, opus 54[a]; Symphony 12 “The Year 1917”, opus 112[b]
Vasily Petrenko, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
NAXOS 8.572658 DDD. TT: 69:38
Recorded in Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool on 23 and 24 June 20120[a] and 28 and 29 July 2009[b].
In his latest instalment of the complete cycle for Naxos, Vasily Petrenko tackles two of Shostakovich’s more enigmatic symphonies, the curiously top-heavy Sixth and the musical black box of the Twelfth. It’s a pair of performances that impresses more by the parts than by the whole, and the parts are very much worthy of attention.
The highlight of the disc is Petrenko’s no less than luminous rendering of the Sixth’s Largo. The timing of the movement, 19:44, invites comparison with other renditions that also lie at the long end of the spectrum. These include the rather aloof version of Valeri Polyansky (19:04, Chandos CHAN 9813, reviewed in DSCH 17); the fluent version of André Previn’s currently unavailable account on EMI (19:08); the atmospheric version of Sir Adrian Boult’s, recently re-released with no coupling Everest EVERCD 015 (19:56); the equally moving version of Gerard Schwarz’s (ARTEK AR 0017-2 at 20:59); and, at the far end, Leonard Bernstein’s pendulously mournful account with the Vienna Philharmonic (419 771 2GH, 22:29).
With broad searching tempi, Petrenko immediately plunges the listener into deep meditative waters. The sweeping opening theme breathes with an extravagant sense of time and space. The crescendi erupt large, the lines are enunciated with cathedral-like expansiveness. These initial passages suggest Benedictine monks intoning Gregorian chant. This is a Largo of exceptional breadth, majesty and eloquence. In the episode that follows the introductory paragraph, soaring lines in the upper strings are set against roaming triplets in the lower. In other performances the triplets are sometimes heard as little more than a backdrop of cross-rhythmic murmurings. Here they are accorded a contoured life of their own, exhibiting a level of reverential detail that informs every note of this performance.
In his previous recordings, Petrenko tends to surround passionate peaks with subdued, discerningly hushed valleys. The approach is well suited to the Largo, whose expressive nucleus lies in a succession of lofty instrumental solos: in turn, for English horn, piccolo, bass clarinet, and most poignantly, for two flutes. It is the dreamy arabesques played by these flutes that lie at the work’s innermost core. The solos in this performance convey a sense of discipline and transcendent stillness that one has rarely – if ever – heard elsewhere. Melodic lines are rendered as though a passage of sacred scripture were being uttered, where even passing notes are being individually weighed and savoured. The dialogue for two flutes, as a result, has less of an improvisatory quality than in other performances. The hymn-like chorale for French horns that follows the flute passage likewise glows with a hallowed aura, as does the valedictory summary in the strings that follows it. If it is possible to point to sacred ground in Shostakovich’s music, Petrenko has found it.
The Allegro that follows receives a cosmopolitan treatment whose ironic turns and intriguing melodic layers are reined in rather tightly on the line. The emphasis is placed on momentum rather than the more colour- and texture-sensitive surveys of Previn or, with the same coupling as Petrenko, Haitink (CD 0289 425 0672). At its brisk pace, we find virtuoso playing of the highest order. Woodwinds, the principle bearers of the high-tension mischief, effortlessly respond to the callisthenic pace. One prominent ritardando is applied at the central climax, yet the tempo resumes within the span of a single bar, leaving the solo timpani flourish that follows to roar by as one undifferentiated blur. While this is not an allegro of favoured moments, it is full of wit and grace, and blessed, in addition, by impeccable clarity.
In the Presto, Petrenko refrains from further pulling up the tempo from the previous movement. He rather adopts a medium-paced presto, one that still gives him enough room to carve a rollicking high-spirited finale with plenty of exposed detail, waggish highlights, and solo excursions. Notable is the sudden acceleration at the onset of the coda section, and then a further step-up of tempo at the coda itself, leading to a unique rousing conclusion.
Brief mention should be made of a recently released version of the Sixth Symphony by the unlikely forces of the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra led by Dobrin Petrov on the Balkanton label and available for download on Amazon. The performance is for the most part listenable. Yet whether intentional or not, the conductor and the recording engineer have made sure that no subtlety of orchestration in this work goes understated. The peculiar spotlighting – the heavy-footed harp strokes in the Largo, the up-front brass and percussion entries in the Allegro – offers the listener the opportunity to examine with the boldest transparency imaginable a myriad of details in Shostakovich’s orchestration. It is by turning un-subtlety into a virtue, as narrowly defined here, that this rendition will bring qualified pleasure to aficionados of the work.
In his MacDonaldesque interpretation of the finale of the Fifth Symphony (reviewed in DSCH 32), Petrenko has shown himself a willing explorer of the possibly subversive content of Shostakovich’s music. That version’s daringly protracted coda, with its belligerent brass fanfares and angrily defiant percussion, might well put listeners on the alert for other instances of multi-layered reading in the conductor’s on-going cycle. No place is more likely to furnish such an example than the Twelfth Symphony, a score that itself represents an evident act of musical subversion.
Like the Eleventh Symphony, the Twelfth is a programmatic work with movements that bear historically suggestive subtitles. The music, apropos of that perspective, is crafted in a style that looks back to the late 19th century. In contrast to the Eleventh’s explicit and deeply felt portrayal of the 1905 Revolution, however, there are reasons to doubt the sincerity of the Twelfth’s ostensible agenda, a tribute to Lenin and the 1917 Revolution. The narrative implied by the cryptic subtitles is vague enough. The music itself is something else again, and seems designed to give the impression of profundity while patently, and uncharacteristically of Shostakovich, avoiding it. After a somewhat substantial first movement, there follows a hauntingly distracted slow movement; a splashily percussive episode in place of a scherzo and a finale that traps itself in a cycle of wearying repetition. Only a master of Shostakovich’s calibre could have given a polished veneer to what some listeners perceive as extravagant misdirection. The fact that Shostakovich placed this patriotic potboiler’s opus number, opus 112, back to back with the openly dissident Thirteenth Symphony, opus 113, only adds to the impression of the Twelfth being part tactical manoeuvre, part subversive commentary.
If Petrenko shares this dissident view of the Twelfth and has tailored his interpretation accordingly, one may find hints of it in the opening movement. In this spirited performance, the music bounces along with brisk tempi, resounding crescendi, and swift little flourishes that spike many of the score’s bustling downbeats. Brimming with enthusiasm and percussive exclamations, if with a hint of mockery, the performance refrains from the gravitas found in other renditions of the same work. The masterpieces of interpretation of the Twelfth remain the lean aggressive versions of Yevgeny Mravinsky and the voluptuously sculptured one of Bernard Haitink. In these performances one finds powerful contrasts drawn between the opening movement’s triumphant flourishes, heroic bouquets, and perilous eruptions, lending the music a greater density and symphonic heft than what one finds in Petrenko’s generally buoyant approach. Haitink’s version is also remarkable for the stunning revelations he extracts from a slow movement of doubtful sincerity. Here, Petrenko elicits beautifully expressive solo work from the members of the Royal Liverpool Orchestra, lending an elegiac dignity to the movement’s restlessly shifting lyrical turns. The short scherzo is brought off with enough detonative power to get across its descriptively revolutionary point. The finale, whose inflated pages may again invite suspicion, seems to be taken at face value as the lyrical episodes are treated with vitality and well-drawn crescendi.
The high point on this CD, as mentioned, is the Sixth’s stunning Largo. Listeners may also take delight in identifying signs of subterfuge, on the parts of both composer and conductor, in the lively performance of the Twelfth. Liner notes by Richard Whitehouse provide eloquent biographical and musical detail.
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Complete Music for piano Duo and Duet, Volume One
Symphony No 9, opus 70 [a][b]; Waltz from Unity, opus 95 [b]; Polka from Ballet Suite No 2, opus 89b [sic – Hulme: sans opus P i] [b]; Chase from Korzinkina’s Adventures, opus 59 [b]; Suite for Two Pianos, opus 6 [c]; Tarantella, opus 84d [sic – Hulme: sans opus O ii] [c]; Merry March, opus 84c [sic – Hulme: sans opus O i] [c]; Concertino, opus 94 [c]
Vicky Yannoula and Jakob Fichert, piano duet [b] and piano duo [c]
Toccata Classics TOCC 0034. DDD. TT 75:46
Recorded at Hurstwood Farm Piano Studios, Kent, England, 17 and 20 July 2007.
[a] World premiere recording
The premiere recording of a Shostakovich symphony should be enough to make us all sit up, even if it is ‘only’ in a reduction (the composer’s own) for piano four hands. But who needs to hear it this way? Well, the Union of Soviet Composers for one, for whom new orchestral works would routinely be given in this form, in order to gain approval for public performance. Moreover Shostakovich used this ‘hands-on’ approach to give conductors an idea of the tempi and to gauge his colleagues’ opinions as to the likely effect of the piece. Another practical purpose was pedagogic, since Shostakovich recommended to his students that they learn new orchestral works through making and performing piano reductions. And he led by example.
It’s also true that stripped of its orchestral colours, a symphonic work can reveal unexpected facets, such as hidden lines, or counterpoints. So it is not entirely surprising that more and more of these piano arrangements have been played and recorded, led by the 1954 four-hand version of the Tenth by the composer himself and his friend and colleague, Mieczysław Weinberg (Revelation RV 70002, one of several re-releases, was reviewed in DSCH 9). The next great success in this field came in 2005 with Rustem Hayroudinoff and Colin Stone’s amazing rendition of the Fourth Symphony in the composer’s arrangement for two pianos (Chandos CHAN 10296, reviewed in DSCH 23). Apart from its dazzling performance, this recording had another element of historic importance. Until its belated premiere in Moscow in December 1961, Shostakovich’s ill-fated Fourth Symphony led a semi-existence thanks to a published two-piano reduction, which saved the work from fading totally into oblivion. The Fourth, with its densely contrapuntal texture would appear to lend itself more successfully to the two-piano or duet medium than many other symphonies of Shostakovich. How, then, does the Ninth fare?
The duet version of the Ninth Symphony was played by the composer and Sviatoslav Richter on 4 September 1945 at the Moscow Philharmonic, then again six days later for the Committee for Artistic Affairs. The Leningrad Philharmonic gave the orchestral premiere on November 3. As readers of DSCH will scarcely need reminding, the work was expected to be a massive celebration of victory over the Nazis, but turned out to have an entirely different character. Exactly what kind of different character depends on what one perceives as mask and what – if anything – as ‘true’ image. Conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky called the new symphony “a joyous sigh of relief … a work directed against philistinism, which ridicules complacency and bombast, the desire to rest on one’s laurels.” And Shostakovich himself observed that “If the Seventh and the Eighth symphonies bore a tragic-heroic character, then in the Ninth a transparent, pellucid, and bright mood predominates.”
Be all that as it may, transparency is certainly a feature of the duet version, thanks not least to Vicky Yannoula and Jakob Fichert’s well-prepared playing, although when it comes to textural voicing and characterisation, there is a serious lack of brightness, air and light; and dynamic inflections, especially in the first movement, are by no means consistently or effectively observed. A comparison with orchestral versions of this movement shows that the pianists are by no means in a hurry. In fact their timing (5:36) matches that of Rostropovich (on Teldec 0630-17046-2), who tends to choose the slowest possible tempo (5:42). At 7:12, the second movement, Moderato, more or less matches the average timing of orchestral versions, such as that of Haitink (7:42) on Decca 414 677-2. The same cannot be said of the Presto third movement, where at (2:58) Yannoula and Fickert are even slower than Rostropovich (2:42). At the other extreme, in the Largo fourth movement, they clock in at 2:35, more than a minute tighter than Haitink (3:50) on Decca, and half a minute quicker than the already fast Kondrashin (3:06) on Melodiya. This presumably indicative of a lack of trust in the piano’s ability to render lengthy, sustained lines; in any case their harsh execution of the brass declamations in this movement is difficult to accept. The finale – unexceptional in tempo – brings to light another, more surprising weakness: an apparent lack of acquaintance with the orchestral version. The obvious misprint at 1:07 is faithfully reproduced, even though the correct version follows a few pages later. In sum, this is a recording that is worth having for the sake of a collection, but in no respect does it match the excitement of the Hayroudinoff and Stone version of the Fourth Symphony.
The remainder of the CD includes a selection of well-known two-piano pieces of Shostakovich. Malcolm Macdonald’s booklet explains the origins of each of these pieces, none of which has been entirely neglected by performers. Among recent CDs containing some or all of these works are: Piotr Laul and Alexander Sandler on Northern Flowers NF/PMA 9941, Thérèse Dussaut and Serge Polusmiak (Suoni e Colori SC 53008) and Aglika Genova with Liuben Dimitrov (CPO 999 599-2) – both the last named discs were reviewed in DSCH 11.
Beyond the symphony the CD enjoys a much more impressive sonic perspective, although the twangy effect in the upper notes of the first piano, for example at 1:47 in the opening movement of the opus 6 Suite, is a distraction. This piece could be considered ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’, as Shostakovich was only 16 when he composed it. Dedicated to his father’s memory, its ideas are attractively à la Rachmaninov , but its structure is alternately predictable, episodic and naïve – yet by the same token essential to understanding Shostakovich’s creative path. Yannoula and Fichert do a fine job here; however their concept does not come across with the clarity of Genova and Dimitrov, or Dussaut and Polusmiak, and they are nowhere near as colourful and idiomatic as the Turkish sisters, Ufuk and Bahar Dördüncü on hat[now] ART 177. As in the Symphony, Yannoula and Fichert play some of the scores’ misprints – in this case in the opening theme of the finale.
The longer opus 94 Concertino balances the symphony on the second half of the CD. This is a light piece, written with the composer’s teenage son in mind, and it carries some of the characteristics of the Second Piano Concerto also destined for Maxim. It goes without saying that the recording by the composer and his son (various incarnations) is a benchmark for tempi, and for the carefree and lightweight spirit of this piece. It is disappointing that many performers freight it with excessive thought and tonal weight in the outer sections: which is the case here, in the hands of Dussaut and Polusmiak. Seta Tanyel and Jeremy Brown on Chandos (CHAN 8466) are certainly closer to the composer’s idea in their sparkiness. Yannoula and Fichert take two minutes longer than Shostakovich & Son, all but eliminating the bounciness of the faster sections. Despite this, and the twanginess of some notes in the first piano, their playing is well-punctuated in phrasing and structure.
Of course the piano-duet version of the symphony is the main highlight of the disc. The other attraction is the sub-title ‘Volume One’. Let’s hope that Toccata can live up to its promise and provide us with the other as-yet unrecorded transcriptions of Shostakovich’s symphonies. But if and when that happens, perhaps other young artists should be given the chance to showcase their talents.
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This is the third CD in Nimbus’s series featuring the Kopelman Quartet, and pairing Shostakovich with his Soviet contemporaries. The first volume (NI5762) placed Quartets Nos. 3 and 7 alongside Prokofiev’s Second, while on NI5287 Quartets Nos. 1 and 8 were partnered with Myaskovsky’s Thirteenth. Now Shostakovich’s Tenth String Quartet of 1964 is coupled with Weinberg’s wartime Piano Quintet (1944), for which the leader’s daughter, Elizaveta Kopelman, joins the ensemble.
Both previous issues, as well as the Quartet’s concerts at the Edinburgh Festival and London’s Wigmore Hall, were well-received, broadly speaking, as the quotes in the CD booklet remind us. Unfortunately, little magic is apparent on this new recording, and the account of the Shostakovich in particular is disappointing.
On paper, the line-up looks very attractive, each member of the ensemble having a remarkable pedigree as a chamber musician. Mikhail Kopelman replaced Rostislav Dubinsky as leader of the Borodin Quartet, where he remained from 1976 to 1996 (his many achievements including the Shostakovich quartet cycle recorded either side of 1980). In 2001 he founded the Kopelman Quartet with former classmates from the Moscow Conservatory: both Boris Kuschnir (second violin) and Igor Sulyga (viola) were founder members of the Moscow String Quartet and worked with Shostakovich on his late quartets, while Mikhail Milman (cello) was principal cellist of the Moscow Virtuosi for 20 years and collaborated frequently with the Borodin Quartet in both concerts and recordings. However, impressive though all this sounds, it is the final result that counts. What this new CD crucially lacks is a sense of striving and intensity. The players may well be crowned with laurels, but it is not their business to rest on them, and there is no escape from the fact that the voltage has diminished considerably since Kopelman led his classic 1981 Borodin Quartet account (once available on BMG and now back on Melodiya, in their intégrale: MEL CD 10 01077).
The Tenth Quartet’s opening Andante begins so quietly as to be virtually inaudible; I had to replay the CD twice to be sure that the very first attack is actually there. It is all well and good to convey a sense of reluctance, but without tension in the air, reluctance tips over into pointlessness. This performance is also 30 seconds longer than the 1981 version, which may not sound much, but in a movement that lasts only 4-5 minutes it has a significant impact. Among modern recordings the Quatuor Danel (volume five of their on-going series, CPO 777 566-2), with their many different shades and colours, demonstrate how momentum and engagement can be achieved without pre-empting the drama to come.
The Kopelman Quartet’s shortcomings are even more evident in the succeeding Allegretto, which Shostakovich marks furioso – an unparalleled gesture for him, emphasising the barbaric and punishing character of the music. Those are qualities crucially absent from the new reading, as more or less any rival version makes plain.
Approaches to the third movement – a passacaglia that functions as a ‘shock absorber’ after the outpouring of violence in the second – differ widely. In 1967, the original Borodin Quartet (Chandos CHAN 10064, reviewed in DSCH 19) went for the monumental, and the Danels are at pains to remove all possible sentimentality, while the Borodins with Kopelman are very lyrical, suffused with the archetypal nostalgia of the Russian soul, perhaps. As in the first movement, the new Kopelmans begin too quietly, so that the passacaglia theme itself doesn’t register correctly. Again there is an absence of emotional engagement, partly because of a simple lack of colour and phrasing. Compared to the Kopelman/Borodin reading, this movement passes for little, as does the finale.
The most striking feature of the last movement is its jerky opening theme, which in the finest performances registers something like an unwanted, annoying insect. The 1967 Borodin account, with its non vibrato accompanying voices, achieves this very effectively; alongside them, the Kopelman sound cautious, with little sense of menace. And what should be a moment of pure terror (3:42) passes almost unnoticed; for a true Halloween-like experience here, look no further than the Danels. Shostakovich ends the quartet with reminders of the first movement and the passacaglia. This is the culmination of the whole piece: the hero is back, as it were, faces the audience and speaks. Once again, the Kopelmans bypass this musically crucial event.
Shostakovich’s Tenth Quartet ends in nothingness, never achieving peace, something it shares with the final bars of Weinberg’s Piano Quintet. This coupling is a natural choice, given that Shostakovich dedicated his Tenth Quartet to his Polish-born friend. Weinberg was to return the favour when he dedicated his Twelfth Symphony to his mentor in 1976. Though one of Weinberg’s Seventeen string quartets would have been an obvious choice, especially since many of them reveal perfectly the nature of the mutual influence between the two composers, it is good to have the Piano Quintet. This is one of Weinberg’s finest achievements, comparable with Shostakovich’s own Quintet (the two works are coupled in impressive performances from Matthias Kirschnereit and the Szymanowski Quartet on Hänssler classic CD93.260). It’s also an opportunity for pianist Elizaveta Kopelman to inject some much-needed energy into the proceedings. Each time she has the opportunity to lead the ensemble her interpretative character is spot-on, and it’s this that saves the disc from total failure.
Unfortunately, though, competition is intense here too, sincethere is a self-recommending version from the composer and the original Borodin Quartet (Melodiya MEL CD1000979) that is both poignant and exciting, possessing incomparable expressive variety, despite the not always flawless execution. The Canadian ARC ensemble also offers a superior alternative in an indispensable all-Weinberg programme (RCA 82876 87769-2).
The Nimbus recording is clear, though the piano is too backwardly placed in the Weinberg.
Hopefully the next instalment in this series will offer something more worthy of the reputation of the players.
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Shostakovich: Songs for the Front
Twenty-seven Romances and Songs, Sans opus J(ii) (Hulme); arrangements for Voice, Violin and Cello of Songs by Various Composers – Rossini: The Alpine Shepherdess[a]; Beethoven: Scottish Drinking Song from 25 Scottish Songs[b]; Bizet: Habañera from Carmen[c]; Weckerlin: Mother, What is Love?[d]; Leoncavallo: Arlecchino’s Serenade from Pagliacci, [e]; Musorgsky: Gopak[f]; Khivrya’s Song[g] and Parasya’s Dumka[h] from Sorochintsy Fair; Rimsky-Korsakov: Song of the Varangian Guest from Sadko[i]; Gurilyov: I Shall Tell Mama[j], The Little Sarafan[k]; Ippolitov-Ivanov: I Sit on a Rock[l]; Gulak-Artemovsky: Duet of Karas and Odarka from A Cossack Beyond the Danube[m]; Dargomyzhsky: Fever[n], Granada [printed as Grenada] is Clothed in Mist[o], Olga’s Song from Rusalka[p], Comic Song from Rogdana[q]; Verstovsky: Gypsy Song[r]; Pritzker: Girl’s Song[s]; Dunayevsky: Anyuta’s Song from The Merry Fellows[t], March of the Pioneers from The Beethoven Concerto[u], Sing for Us, Wind from The Children of Captain Grant [v], Song of the Sea[w]; Dmitri and Daniil Pokrass: Farewell[x], Those are not Storm Clouds from Sons of a Working People[y]; Milyutin: Do not Touch Us from Mitka-Lelyuk[z]; Blanter: Shchors’s Song[aa].
Nikolay Khondzinsky (director), Soloists of the Russkaya Conservatoria Chamber Capella: Natalia Pavlova (soprano)[a,d,f,h,j,m,n,p,q,t-v], Varvara Chaikova (soprano)[c,g,k,l,o,q-s], Tatiana Abramenko (mezzo-soprano)[u,v], Magdalina Ganaba (mezzo-soprano)[u,v], Mikhail Vekua (tenor)[e], Ivan Bolgov (tenor)[w-aa], Taras Yasenkov (tenor)[w,z,aa], Dmitry Volkov (bass)[b,i,m], Ayako Tanabe (violin)[a-d,f-k,m-p,r,s,u,v,x,y], Alexander Yuts (violin)[t,w,z,aa], Ivan Ivanov (violin)[e,l,q], Valery Masterov (cello)[a-d,f-k,m-p,r,s,u,v,x,y], Valery Verstyuk (cello)[e,l,q,t,w,z,aa].
Toccata Classics TOCC 0121. DDD. TT 60:40.
Recorded at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University, Moscow, 4 January, 24 February and 18 April 2010.
World premiere recordings.
On 13 June 1941, TASS reported to the Soviet citizenry, “Germany like the USSR is … strictly observing the stipulations of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact and therefore … rumours of Germany’s intention to break the pact and open an attack on the USSR are devoid of all foundation … [and] are lies and provocations.” Just 9 days later, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, and by 10 July the German Army had crossed the Velikaya River and lay within striking distance of Leningrad. Shostakovich, whose repeated applications for military duty had been rejected, spent the first weeks of July labouring with the Home Guard to fortify Leningrad. In a few days around 12 July, he arranged twenty-seven popular art and mass songs, intended to be performed by small groups of Conservatoire musicians to soldiers at the front and to recruits at call-up centres. Small-scale in comparison with the Leningrad Symphony (which he began the following week), this wartime project is nevertheless equally revealing of Shostakovich’s fervent commitment to apply his skills to the fight.
The present release marks the first recording of these Russian-language arrangements, and in the foreseeable future is unlikely to be surpassed for quality. All performances are of the very highest calibre in terms of both technique and emotional projection. No less impressive, booklet notes by academics Larisa Miller, Florentina Panchenko, Tamara Svirskaya and soprano Elvira Fatykhova are a treasure trove of information, providing historical context, documenting the provenance of each piece, detailing instances where Shostakovich made noteworthy modifications to his source material, and presenting biographies for all the performers. Full librettos are supplied in both Cyrillic and Anthony Phillips’ English translations.
These works call for different combinations of vocalists, so presumably performers in the field would have picked which of the twenty-seven pieces to perform based on the forces available and individual preferences. Thus, the programme is not graven in stone; here the order of the works on this disc differs from that in the Hulme Catalogue but is well designed to provide contrast while generally progressing from romances and comic songs to more patriotic pieces. The first five songs are from Western Europe, the remainder from Russia and Ukraine.
Toccata Classics’ booklet notes suggest that Shostakovich’s decision to include one of Rossini’s songs may be explained by their wide popularity, with The Alpine Shepherdess appearing in several collections published in Moscow before the War. The Hulme Catalogue identifies this as Alpine shepherd’s song from William Tell, which would have made for an interesting connection to Shostakovich’s Fifteenth Symphony (via the ubiquitous Overture to Rossini’s opera) and perhaps triggered speculation about another – hidden – rationale for the song’s selection. As it turns out, however, The Alpine Shepherdess is audibly unrelated to the shepherd’s pastorale from the William TellOverture, and appears nowhere else in the opera. Instead, it hails from Rossini’s Soirées musicales for voice and piano, as correctly attributed by Toccata Classics. Countless recordings are available of Rossini’s original score, not to mention other transcriptions, notably Liszt’s for solo piano. Certainly, it is a most endearing work, particularly in Shostakovich’s lilting arrangement for voice and strings. This Alpine-fresh recital by soprano Varvara Chaikova, violinist Ayako Tanabe and cellist Valery Masterov will be therapeutic for any listeners traumatised by Charlotte Church’s mastication of an orchestrated version (Prelude: The Best of Charlotte Church, Sony 86990, if morbid curiosity insists).
A satisfying contrast in mood arrives with the next piece, Beethoven’s insatiable Trinklied from his 25 Scottish Songs (opus 108). The 120-proof Russian lyrics by Andrey Globa stagger far from both the German and English text in Beethoven’s score, but their thesis is the same: gie us a wee dram! Besieged Leningrad’s frontline soldiers received larger food rations than did its civilians, but were only infrequently treated to vodka, so this song’s insistent call for more alcohol would have resonated strongly. Bass Dmitry Volkov’s jovial, masculine tones are ably supported by the bouncing bows of Tanabe and Masterov. Although the melody is Beethoven’s, the brief instrumental-only sections in the piece have a strong whiff of Shostakovich to them; they wouldn’t sound out of place slipped into a string arrangement of his 24 Preludes.
Few works in the operatic repertoire have inspired as many adaptations as Bizet’s Carmen, Russia claiming one of the most notable in the form of Rodion Shchedrin’s 1967 ballet. On the present CD, Shostakovich’s arrangement of a Russian translation of the Habañera from Act I, Scene V is belted out with impressive verve and purity of tone by Chaikova, while Tanabe and Masterov supply truly flawless rhythmic drive.
An improbable candidate for Shostakovich’s attentions at first glance, upon closer inspection Bizet’s Carmen throws up a web of connections to Shostakovich intricate enough to make even an orb-weaver spider dizzy. For example, Alexander Benditsky has recently catalogued numerous allusions to the Habañera and other themes from Carmenscattered throughout Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. The muse inspiring these references was the translator Elena Konstantinovskaya, with whom Shostakovich had an open affair in 1934–35 but who subsequently emigrated to Spain, where she married Soviet film-maker Roman Karmen, thereby herself becoming “Carmen” in Shostakovich’s psyche.
At the nexus of another set of links between Shostakovich and Carmen lies Alexander Pushkin’s narrative poem The Gypsies. Bizet’s collaborators Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy based their libretto of Carmen primarily on the novella of the same name by Prosper Mérimée, but also independently on The Gypsies. Both Mérimée’s 1844 novella and Pushkin’s poem from two decades earlier concern a headstrong Gypsy woman who ends up being killed by her jealous aristocratic lover. These similarities, plus the fact that Mérimée published a French translation of The Gypsiesin 1852, form the basis for the assumption (restated in the notes of the present release) that the novella was derived from Pushkin’s poem. However, writing in 19th-Century Music, David A. Lowe presents convincing evidence that Mérimée was unlikely to have had more than a second-hand familiarity with the The Gypsies at the time he wrote his novella. Lowe also demonstrates that Meilhac and Halévy drew many of the opera’s lines directly from The Gypsies(in French translation), since their libretto includes dialogue that appears in Pushkin’s poem but not in Mérimée’s novella – the opening verse of the Habañera being one such example. Another celebrated opera, Rachmaninov’sAleko, mined The Gypsies even more extensively. The libretto for Aleko was adapted from Pushkin’s poem by Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, whose Moscow theatre staged not only an adaptation of Bizet’s Carmen entitledCarmencita and the Soldier, but also that city’s 1934 production of another opera showcasing a female protagonist governed by her passions: Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (renamed Katerina Izmailova). But this route from Carmen to Shostakovich is a mere sideline in comparison with the fact that the teenaged composer’s very first opera was none other than his own adaptation of The Gypsies. In a fit of self-doubt after his graduation in 1925, Shostakovich burned his manuscript for The Gypsies along with other childhood scores. He was later to express regret at having committed this act, singling out his opera as a work deserving of preservation (only fragments ofThe Gypsies evaded the bonfire). Though published in volume 55 of the new DSCH Complete Works and premiered by Rozhdestvensky in Moscow in 2009 as reported in DSCH 32, these have yet to be commercially recorded). Thus, one may speculate that the 34-year-old Shostakovich’s selection of the Habañera from Carmen for this wartime song cycle reflects not only the tune’s popularity, but also the composer’s desire to reconnect with Pushkin’s poem and thereby his own opera. Indeed, this desire may have been lifelong; a year before his death Shostakovich resurrected a theme from his lost opera in Immortality, the final song of his Suite on Verses of Michelangelo.
Tanabe and Masterov return for Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin’s Maman, dites-moi, in a Russian version sung with sweet naïveté by soprano Natalia Pavlova. Chillingly, Toccata Classics’ annotation discloses that the translator of the Russian text, Yulia Rimskaya-Korsakova (Rimsky-Korsakov’s daughter-in-law), died of starvation during the Leningrad siege. The same song can be heard in the original French in an historic recording from the forties by soprano Nina Dorliak accompanied by Sviatoslav Richter on a Cascavelle disc produced in association with Association Internationale Dimitri Chostakovitch (VEL 3041; reviewed in DSCH 18).
Tenor Mikhail Vekua’s lone contribution to this release is a dramatic recital of Arlecchino’s Serenade from Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. His smoky tone contrasts nicely with Shostakovich’s transparent string backing.
Shostakovich’s beloved Musorgsky is represented by three songs. The pitilessly humorous Gopak is taken from a Ukrainian poem but Shostakovich employed a Russian translation. More complex in instrumentation than the other songs in the compilation, Gopak is possessed of a frenetic energy reminiscent of Shostakovich’s stage works of the 1930s, and I’d wager that he devoted more time to arranging this song than any of the others.
Musorgsky’s opera Sorochintsy Fair supplies the other two pieces: Khivrya’s Song and Parasya’s Dumka. Both of these open in doleful tones but halfway through adopt a jauntier air. Pavola takes Gopak and Parasya’s Dumka (her sparkling “Chob, chob, chobo-chobotochki” in the latter is one of the most delicious ingredients on the disc), while Chaikova handles Khivrya’s Song. Tanabe and Masterov accompany with great sensitivity in all three pieces.
Song of the Varangian Guest from Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Sadko counts among my favourites of these arrangements. Tanabe and Masterov’s subtle handling of the simple rocking motif in the strings echoes the ocean waves that provide the setting for the song. Hairs are sure to rise when Volkov roars out his closing warning about the remorselessness of the Varangian Sea.
Born into a peasant family in 1803, Alexander Gurilyov was later freed from serfdom and became a prominent art-song composer in Moscow. His I Shall Tell Mama and The Little Sarafan are both sweet-natured romances with a salon air. Enjoyable on their own terms, they also serve, along with Ippolitov-Ivanov’s pastoral I Sit on a Rock, as a moment of repose, a launching pad for the more robust works to come in the programme.
Semyon Gulak-Artemovsky’s Duet of Karas and Odarka from his opera A Cossack Beyond the Danube is the longest work here, at over 8 minutes. It is also the only item not sung in Russian, but instead in its original Ukrainian. This comical argument provoked by a husband who stayed out far too late for his wife’s liking is vividly depicted by Volkov’s self-pitying excuses and the nagging tones of Pavlova.
Alexander Dargomyzhsky was a prominent musical figure in St. Petersburg in the latter half of the nineteenth-century, well connected with both the establishment and the radical intelligentsia. At just shy of a minute, his Feveris one of the shortest pieces in Shostakovich’s collection. Quite a devious little ditty it is too: a wife mired in an arranged marriage prays for her unkind, jealous husband to suffer even more greatly from the fever that has laid him abed! Shostakovich’s instrumentation is lean and unobtrusive, keeping the spotlight on Pavlova as she revels in the impishly wide intervals of her naughty lines.
Dargomyzhsky clearly had a penchant for Spanish maidens on balconies, as he beckons to them not only in Granada is Clothed in Mist, heard here, but also in other songs of his not appearing on the current disc, including The Night Zephyr and The Sierra Nevada is Clothed in Mist. The Hulme Catalogue lists Shostakovich’s wartime transcription asThe Sierra-Nevada [Granada] is clothed in mists, with words by V. Shirkov. However, despite the shared geography, nocturnal vapours, and even the specific exhortation to a certain Elvira to open her window, The Sierra Nevada is Clothed in Mist is actually a completely different song from Granada is Clothed in Mist, and only the latter was arranged by Shostakovich. The spelling in Toccata Classics’ notes and track listing blows the mist to the Caribbean isle of Grenada, which is indeed the transliteration of the Russian Гренада. Nevertheless, Granada it is, and there is no mistaking the Iberian inflections in Shostakovich’s arrangement, with extensive pizzicato work on violin and cello channelling a Spanish guitar. This gentle instrumentation is well matched by Chaikova’s languid tone, though the combination does rather cool some of the ardour inherent in the verses of this nocturnal love song. Mezzo-soprano Evgenia Gorokhovskaya accompanied by Irina Golovneva supply a lustier, less wistful reading of Dargomyzhsky’s own version for voice and piano on an album entitled Classical Russian Romances (Bomba-Piter CDMAN 123, where the song’s title is unhealthily rendered as Granada has put on a Haze). I hasten to add that I do not wish Chaikova, Tanabe and Masterov had taken a less tender approach to their Shostakovich transcription; their handling yields one of the loveliest entries on this disc. A performance such as this would have been balm to lonely souls at the front, though I imagine a male vocalist would have been a more conventional choice, given the object of desire.
Pavlova takes over again for the next song in the programme, returning to the theme of marital dysfunction. Olga’s Song (On our Street) comes from Dargomyzhsky’s opera Rusalka (not to be confused with Dvořák’s better-known work). The first stanza recounts the tale of a wife who rebuffs her husband’s romantic advances – “I have a headache!” A comparable situation plays out in the second stanza, but in contrast the husband threatens to beat his wife, whereupon her headache vanishes. Wife battery was highly prevalent and widely accepted by men in Dargomyzhsky’s nineteenth-century Russia; one proverb in general circulation recommended, “Beat your wife before dinner, and do not sit down to supper without a beating.” It is difficult to account for why Shostakovich, the godson of prominent feminist Klavdia Lukashevich, decided not only to include this misogynistic song, but also to set the second stanza’s repugnant scenario to equally warm string accompaniment as the first. For all the official proclamations of gender equality in Soviet society, violence against women in the family remained commonplace, and Shostakovich must have known Olga’s Song would elicit approving laughter from many in his target audience. The present-day listener may choose to appreciate this performance of Olga’s Song without condoning the lyrics, but with its uninspired melody and slurring vocal line it remains one of the less appealing numbers in this compilation.
Happily, Dargomyzhsky’s Comic Song from his unfinished opera Rogdana makes for a delightful corrective. Note that this is not The Worm, which the Hulme Catalogue identifies as the Dargomyzhsky comic song in Shostakovich’s 27-movement collection. Though Shostakovich apparently never arranged The Worm, he did adapt the text of that satirical ode on at least one extra-musical occasion. According to Lev Lebedinsky, Shostakovich was required to receive political instruction from a Stalinist functionary, who challenged him with, “I know you are a well-known composer, but who are you in comparison with our great Leader?” Remembering the line from Dargomyzhsky’s song, “I am a worm in comparison to His Excellency,” Shostakovich immediately responded, “I am a worm.” Appeased, the sociologist replied, “Yes, that’s just it, you are indeed a worm, and it’s a good thing that you possess a healthy sense of self-criticism.” While the Comic Song from Rogdana included here is not at all ironic, it still provokes a smile. Nominally about a wood-goblin, the song rapidly devolves into choppy doggerel, with Pavlova and Chaikova joining forces and Ivanov and cellist Valery Verstyuk evidently enjoying the accelerating jig. The entire affair lasts an all-too-brief 41 seconds.
Next up, Gypsy Song is another depiction of wedded strife: a woman taunts her aged husband with the revelation that she has been enjoying the attentions of a young lover. The mockery positively drips off Chaikova’s tongue, while Tanabe and Masterov power through their gypsy flourishes. Gypsy Song is the lone entrant from opera composer Alexey Verstovsky (for a time a rival of Glinka’s, but now infrequently heard), and the second number in this set with words drawn from Pushkin’s The Gypsies. For those counting degrees of separation, the song includes the poem’s lines “Slash me, burn me: I am strong, I fear neither knife nor fire,” which Meilhac and Halévy reused, little modified, in Act I, Scene IX of Bizet’s Carmen. This Gypsy Song from Pushkin’s poem is textually unrelated to the Gypsy Songfrom Act II of Carmen that we can catch a whiff of at the opening of the finale of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. Conversely, one of the rediscovered fragments of Shostakovich’s lost opera The Gypsies is his brilliant setting of the full text of Pushkin’s song, which bears no musical resemblance to Verstovsky’s effort. Hopefully we will not have to wait much longer to hear this on CD; in the meantime, Rozhdestvensky’s premiere performance may be heard on the website of The Voice of Russia, at http://english.ruvr.ru/2009/12/18/3085544.html.
David Pritsker (here spelled “Pritzker”) was a pianist and composer, primarily of Soviet mass songs. Like Shostakovich, Pritsker endured the beginning of the Leningrad siege before being evacuated. His Song of the Young Girl is one of the most lyrical and moving in this compilation. Best described as a patriotic love anthem, this receives heart-swelling treatment by Chaikova, Tanabe and Masterov. With verses directly addressed to a beloved going off to defend the homeland’s borders, this was an obvious choice for Shostakovich to include.
Like Pritsker, Isaak Dunayevsky was a composer of patriotic mass songs, but his connections to Shostakovich ran deeper and were more complex. As director of the Leningrad Music Hall, he had collaborated with Shostakovich in 1931 on the stage production of Hypothetically Murdered, but in 1938, now chairman of the Leningrad branch of the Union of Composers, he threw a wet blanket on the acclaim being heaped on Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. As Laurel Fay implies, this may have reflected Dunayevsky’s wish to forestall Stalin’s backlash against the work and its composer for attracting immoderate praise and popularity – the fate that had befallen Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Whatever its underlying motivation, Dunayevsky’s official criticism did not inhibit Shostakovich from selecting four of his pieces for the wartime songs project. The first three of these originated in film scores: Anyuta’s Song is a languid romance in waltz time, sweetly sung by Pavlova, while March of the Pioneers and Sing for Us, Wind are boisterous, patriotic ballads, both featuring Pavlova in unison with mezzo-sopranos Tatiana Abramenko and Magdalina Ganaba; high spirits abound. The fourth Dunayevsky contribution, Song of the Sea is even more martial, an increasingly rousing march with tenors Ivan Bolgov and Taras Yasenkov in a heroism-inspiring duet.
Like Pritsker and Dunayevsky, the brothers Dmitri and Daniil Pokrass were Jewish. Jewish intonations are so prominent in Those are not Storm Clouds that its melody would later be incorporated in the best-known of the Warsaw ghetto resistance songs, Zog nit keynmol az du geyst dem letstn veg (“Never say that you are walking the final road”), with verses by Hirsh Glik. However, the original text used by the Pokrass brothers and appearing in Shostakovich’s setting deals with Cossack cavalry kicking up dust clouds on their way to join the Red Army. Bolgov’s crisp enunciation and vibrato rise to a stirring climax, mirrored emphatically by Tanabe and Masterov.
The same three performers are admirably hushed in the Pokrass’ Farewell, a wistful yet ennobling tale of a couple, both Komsomol activists, parting to go off to fight on different fronts in the Russian Civil War. The booklet notes report the fascinating nugget that the author of the song’s text, Mikhail Isakovsky, took his inspiration from a conversation during a leave-taking scene from the film The Girlfriends, for which Shostakovich composed the score (recently premiered on Naxos 8.572138; reviewed in DSCH 30).
Georgi (Yury) Milyutin was another writer of popular songs, and during the Great Patriotic War was active at the front giving concerts at hospitals and soldiers’ clubs. Milyutin was also a composer of film scores, including 1938’sMitka-Lelyuk from which Do not Touch Us derives. More dust-kicking cavalry thunders by, courtesy of the travelling motifs stamped out by violinist Alexander Yuts and Verstyuk. Bolgov and Yasenkov supply a bright-eyed and righteous duet.
The same four performers conclude the disc with an invigorating rendition of Shchors’ Song by Matvei Blanter, a tribute to the famed Red Army cavalry commander. A close friend of Shostakovich, Blanter is considered to be one of the originators of the Soviet mass song, along with Dunayevsky and Dmitri Pokrass; like them and Pritsker, he was Jewish. It is entirely fitting that the prolific output of these Jewish artists, which extends far beyond Shostakovich’s selections, was deployed to boost the morale of troops battling the Nazis on the Second World War’s most decisive front.
While this release of Songs for the Front is self-recommending to Shostakovich completists on the basis of being the premiere recording, there is no denying that the material is not the usual fare of most admirers of this composer. Nevertheless, such superb music-making and recording engineering – deserving of any number of ‘Record of the Year’ awards – swiftly dispel any preconceptions. Repeat hearings generate increasing appreciation for all on offer here, and I have derived immense pleasure listening to these performances in preparing this review. Executive producer Martin Anderson, production director and coordinator Igor Prokhorov, and all others involved should be commended for the attention to detail evident in the presentation and documentation. This is the mandatory Shostakovich CD of 2012.
W. Mark Roberts