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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-75)
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 54a.
The Execution of Stepan Razin, Op. 119b
bAnatoly Lochak (bass)
Russian State bSymphonic Cappella and Symphony Orchestra
Valeri Polyansky.
Recorded in aMosfilm Studio on June 18th, 1999 and bGrand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on June 14th, 2000.
CHANDOS CHAN9813 [59’00] [DDD]


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Still standing in the deep shadow of the Fifth Symphony when it comes to popularity (and hence numbers of both performances and recordings), the Sixth Symphony poses a number of challenges, both to interpreters and listeners. After the clear four-movement structure of the Fifth, here is a three-movement symphony with a first movement that lasts longer than the other two combined.

The Sixth seems to stand between the twin peaks of the Fifth and Seventh Symphonies, therefore: but this is no ‘slender Grecian maid’ like Beethoven’s Fourth standing between the mighty Eroica and his Fifth. It stands very much on its own two feet. As in much of Shostakovich’s output the extremes of vulgarity and true emotional depth coexist in a way which mirrors ‘real’ life. Any performance worth its asking price cannot and must not shy away from these seemingly opposed sides of Shostakovich’s persona.

Let it be stated from the start that Polyansky’s account is technically excellent: the Russian State Symphony Orchestra is a superb ensemble, evidently finely honed by its conductor (Polyansky has conducted them since 1992). The recording is fully up to Chandos’ standards (as Polyansky himself is listed as producer, one can assume that we hear exactly what he wants us to hear). The prevailing seriousness of intent is clear from the meaty, determined initial statement which launches the twenty-minute journey of the first movement. Polyansky is a reliable guide, ever attentive to the felicities of Shostakovich’s scoring and fully able to summon up hushed stillness when required. This first movement is Polyansky’s greatest achievement, for in the other two movements (6’23 and 7’09 respectively) there appears a feeling of restraint, which undersells the piece. This is less marked in the second movement (allegro) than in the finale. Even though there is a playful element in the playing of the last movement, there is also room for some unashamed vulgarity (particularly near the close). Perhaps this would have been more forthcoming if the recording had been live? Try Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic on Le Chant du Monde PR7254017 coupled with the Twelfth to get closer to the heart of this enigmatic masterpiece.

The even rarer-heard Execution of Stepan Razin of 1964 is a valuable and fascinating ‘filler’ (inverted commas as it takes up nearly half of the total playing time). Originally intended as the first movement of a symphony (along the lines of the Thirteenth, and sharing with that piece the poet, Yevtushenko), it tells the story of Razin, who unsuccessfully tried to lead a rising against the Tsar in the seventeenth century. It is in essence a story of defiance in the face of authority, a defiance taken right through death as a post-death Razin successfully mocks the Tsar. Listening to the score, it is clear that the text made a deep impression on the composer. Shostakovich’s legendary gift for orchestration means that the piece is powerfully evocative, and the choral writing gives the excellent Russian State Symphonic Cappella the chance to shine (and shine they do). There are even echoes of Stravinsky’s Les Noces (1914-17) in some of the choral passages. Anatoly Lochak, a soloist with the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow as well as ‘permanent guest’ at Wexford, projects and characterises to the manner born. The disc is worth its price for Op. 119 alone.

Colin Clarke


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