Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution (1937) [31:13]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) The Sun Shines over our Motherland (1952) [12:17]
RSFSR Russian Chorus
Boys Choir of Moscow Choir School
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Kirill Kondrashin
rec. 1965, Moscow
Source used for Transfer: Angel/Melodiya 4-Track Tape

HDTT are at their devastating zenith when working from reel-to-reel tapes.

Things could have gone to hell in a handcart with the first black-hearted piled high chord in the Prokofiev. However the CD renders the moment with total fidelity and security. The singing is large, passionate, raw and full blooded. The choir takes on the massed voice of The People in all its illimitable power. The brass roar and gallop at 2:38 (tr.1). The sounds are on a seismic scale and are superbly and naturally rendered in tr. 4 at 5:10. Those machine gun ratatats and huge rushing sounds emanating from the 500 strong orchestra and choirs are viscerally exciting. The orchestration is full of incident including an accordion (tr.4 7.16), siren effects and an over-the-top amplified narrator. In tr. 5 the quiet-pulsed sweetness of Romeo and Juliet is referenced in silvery white light. What a shame that Stalin’s Vow (the original 8th section) is omitted – room for a truly faithful version in future. It’s just a pity that the nine sections are not fully separately tracked.

The Shostakovich (also on Melodiya) is soft-contoured and has very little of the individual DSCH we know. This is however a passionately fervent performance as with the Prokofiev and there are some nicely rounded lyrical ideas. The latter are obviously no mean thing and reflect Shostakovich tackling an idiom he has not addressed before as in the case of the Second Piano Concerto. The blast furnace ardour returns when the children’s voices sing of “My Soviet land shine through all corners of the world.” Grandiloquence or what? Just a bit vacuous? Well, maybe - you can either wince or revel in the Korngold-style brass.

These two works reflect a political genre beginning with Kastalsky’s Lenin to the Proletariat and The Year 1905 and continuing through Aleksander Davidenko and a collective’s The October Path, Schulhoff’s Communist Manifesto and Alexander Krein’s USSR – Shock Brigade of the World.

If you hanker after more Prokofiev in this grandiloquent vein then Chandos will oblige with On guard for peace; Zdravitsa (1939), Flourish Mighty Land 1947) and Songs of Our Days.

The words are printed on the insert in English but there’s no transliterated sung text.

We can deprecate the words if we want an easy sitting target. It’s an aspect easily accessible if we want to set ourselves obstacles to musical appreciation. On the other hand how about listening to the music? It’s by no means subtle but it is not irredeemable and may yet surprise you if you let it. Spectacular stuff.

Rob Barnett

By no means subtle but it is not irredeemable and may yet surprise you if you let it.