The sequence of Shostakovich symphonies from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO) under Vasily Petrenko is drawing to a close with this penultimate release in the Naxos cycle.
Unusually scored for soprano, bass, string orchestra and percussion I view the Fourteenth Symphony as a twentieth-century masterwork. It should be a repertoire staple yet is rarely encountered in the concert hall. Requiring two soloists to sing in Russian (in the original version) does not help its relative neglect in concert. I guess that the unifying theme of the texts concerning death may be the primary reason. Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder
(Songs on the Death of Children) is another such work which I know many people are apprehensive about.
More of a song-cycle than a traditional symphony the settings of eleven texts were originally chosen by Shostakovich using Russian translations of Federico Garcia Lorca, Guillaume Apollinaire, Rainer Maria Rilke and a few significant lines by the Russian Wilhelm Küchelbecker. Incidentally all four authors suffered relatively early and ill-fated deaths.
This score has the capacity to move the listener as it certainly did when last year I attended an outstanding performance at the Philharmonie, Berlin: Teodor Currentzis conducted the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Currentzis’s soloists, Angela Denoke (soprano) and Petr Migunov (bass) sang authorised German translations of the texts.
On this Naxos recording Vasily Petrenko, born in Saint Petersburg, has chosen the composer’s original version of the translated texts sung in Russian. Maestro Petrenko’s pair of high quality soloists, Israeli soprano Gal James and Russian bass Alexander Vinogradov (described as a baritone on the Naxos liner notes), deliver vividly voiced interpretations. James exhibits a bright, smooth tone and although I can’t comment on the security of her Russian pronunciation her diction and delivery is commendable. Showing authentic and unfailing sensitivity for the powerful texts I especially admired the soprano’s contribution in the fourth song ‘The Suicide’ an Adagio
that opens with the grave words in English translation ‘Three tall lilies on my grave with no cross’. Here James, accompanied by dark, low strings, is deeply moving. Taking centre-stage is the remarkably emphatic voice of Alexander Vinogradov. His cavernously deep and potent bass takes on a slight but highly effective raw edge. This, together with crystal clear diction, creates a chilling impression. The ninth movement Andante
titled ‘O, Delvig, Delvig!’ was particularly noteworthy with the plaintive sound of the principal cello admirably complementing Vinogradov’s deep sadness. Petrenko has few peers in this repertoire and throughout this compelling performance the string ensemble is commendable as is the fresh feeling of rhythmic freedom from the percussion.
With regard to competing recordings, ever since its first release I have admired the 1980 account played by the Concertgebouw Orchestra under Bernard Haitink on Decca. Recorded at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam the assured Haitink conducts a splendid and convincingly concentrated reading. He uses another authorised version with the poems all sung in their original languages except for Loreley
The Naxos engineers continue their sterling work, capturing an excellent sound quality at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool. Disappointingly the thirty minutes of available space on the disc wasn’t used to include another orchestral score. With this outstanding new recording Haitink now has a fierce competitor who deserves attention. More importantly Shostakovich’s music is being given the finest advocacy.
Previous reviews: Dan Morgan
and John Quinn
Masterwork Index: Symphony 14
Reviews of the Petrenko Shostakovich cycle on MusicWeb International
Symphonies 1 and 3
Symphonies 2 and 15
Symphonies 5 and 9
Symphonies 6 and 12
and an alternative view
Comment from a reader, Martin Walker
“It has been interesting to read the three reviews on MW of Petrenko's recording of Shostakovitch's 14th symphony, but a brief remark made by Michael Cookson impels me to make a comment: he says that Haitink uses "uses another authorised version with the poems all sung in their original languages except for 'Loreley'". This is not quite exact, but if one looks online some confusion on this question can be observed: any number of attributions to "Brentano after Apollinaire", and in Mark Wigglesworth's interesting online commentary on the work we may even find "Lorca’s version of the German poet Clemens Brentano’s poem"! The attribution should I think be to Mikhail Kudinov (the only Russian translator of this I could find) after Apollinaire's very free French translation/imitation of Brentano's original poem: 'Lore Lay'. It is a version of the latter adapted to the abbreviated content of Apollinaire's version and the requirements of the musical declamation that Fischer-Dieskau and Julia Varady sing in the Haitink recording, I believe - though as my copy is elsewhere I cannot check this at present. The "original language" of Lore Lay/Loreley is quite a moot question: Apollinaire did quite a Lowell on the Brentano original - and only one conversant with both Russian and French say how closely Kudinov hewed to the French text. - It seems clear to me that the choice of "the original languages" in the Haitink recording makes it a very illuminating variant of all the recordings in the Russian language. As several good alternatives have been suggested by the reviewers, I venture to add my own proposal: Benjamin Britten with the ECO, Vishnevskaya and Rezhetin.”
From Michael Cookson:
It states in the booklet notes to the 1980 Concertgebouw/Haitink Decca recording:
"In the original version of the Symphony the poems by Apollinaire, Garcia Lorca and Rilke were sung in Russian translations, although the composer authorised a version to be sung entirely in German. In this third version, also inspected and approved by Shostakovich, the poems are sung in their original languages, with the exception of Apollinaire’s Loreley, which follows closely a German text written in 1801 by Clemens Brentano and which is sung here in that language.”