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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
The Execution of Stepan Razin, op. 119 (1964) [28:37]
October, op. 131 (1967) [13:10]
Five Fragments, op. 42 (1935) [10:35]
(Moderato [1:21]; Andante [1:02]; Largo [3:48]; Moderato [2:51]; Allegretto [1:33])
Charles Robert Austin (bass-baritone)
Seattle Symphony Chorus/Abraham Kaplan
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz
rec. June 1996, Seattle Center Opera House (Stepan Razin); S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, Feb 2000, (October); February 2005 (Five Fragments). DDD
NAXOS 8.557812 [52:22]

For Shostakovich lovers like myself 2006 is proving to be a fantastic year. Recordings are pouring out month after month - a worthy musical celebration of his centenary. In this case Naxos has added some of his works that are less often heard - always something to be applauded.

The Execution of Stepan Razin, written in 1964, tells the story of the 17th century Cossack leader who unsuccessfully mounted a rebellion against Tsar Alexis I, the father of Peter the Great and who paid the ultimate price. Yevtushenko’s poem has his disembodied head laughing at the Tsar in a final mocking gesture. Unfortunately this recording just doesn’t punch its weight - the performance is lacklustre with the orchestra missing the opportunity to throw its weight behind the music and the soloist failing to make an impact with a voice not quite rich enough in tone and an inability to provide convincing Russian to support the text. The chorus too are below par all of which is a shame in a work more rarely heard than many others by this brilliant composer. Those wanting to have a much more rich and satisfying experience of this music would do well to seek out the Chandos recording with The Russian State Symphony Orchestra and Capella under Valeri Polyansky (CHAN 9813) coupled with the 6th. Symphony - review.

Unfortunately the symphonic poem October, written in 1967 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Revolution, fares no better with the orchestra again failing to get its collective musical muscle behind the work which results in a lukewarm performance than doesn’t make a sufficiently good case for the music.

The even more rarely heard Five Fragments, written in 1935 as a kind of practise run for the ill-fated Fourth Symphony - unheard in its orchestral score until some thirty years after it was written - are better played with the spiky humour brought out to the fore. These are very short pieces but prove once again what a wealth of ideas Shostakovich could inject into tiny packages.

Steve Arloff

see also review by Brian Burtt


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