Dmitri Shostakovich was a survivor, a gifted composer born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1906, an artist who attached himself to the freedoms of change of the new music of the 20th century and gained early popularity in his homeland only to suffer the iron fist of Stalin's threat that began the devastation of creative minds in 1936. If Shostakovich were to survive in his homeland he had to make artistic concessions, a feat he was willing to perform to shield his inner development as one of the finest composers of the century once the red/black curtain was lifted.
Nowhere is this dichotomy of artistic expression better demonstrated than on this superb recording of two works - 'nationalistic oratorio and cantata (read 'paeans')' coupled with a suite from his early 1928 controversial and experimental successful opera 'The Nose'. Michail Jurowski conducts the Cologne Radio Orchestra, Chorus , Children's Choir and soloists in two works that are unknown outside of Russia - and for good reason. The opening work is the cantata 'The Sun Shines on Our Motherland', opus 90 from the year 1952. This is a side of Shostakovich unknown to most of us, a very lushly romantic, lyrical, patriotic work fixed in the sonorities of 19th century British choral work sound. Once the listener gets past the rather mundane aspect of the piece the truly beautiful orchestral melding with the choral writing can be admired. But as 'pretty' as the work is it is not related to the Shostakovich we know.
The second work presented here is 'The Song of the Forests', Opus 81 from 1949 and is another grand oratorio proclaiming the glories of Russia - a rather bombastic, lugubrious work that may at one time have thrilled the hearts of Russian patriots, but that now is a merely beautifully composed old-fashioned massive choral work.
The last piece on this well recorded album is the dazzlingly wonderful suite from Shostakovich's first opera, 'The Nose' based on Nikolai Gogol's 1836 satirical tale of a Tsarist civil servant whose nose leaves his face and he departs on a ludicrous search for his missing part. The opera is as creatively inventive and daring as the previously placed choral works are retrogressive. After an overture that introduces all manner of rhythmic and atonal ideas, the suite settles into an aria by the main character Kovalev (well sung by Stanislaw Suleimanow) bemoaning his condition. The following Intermezzo is a dazzling example of Shostakovich's genius - a movement written entirely for the percussion section, oddly minus tympani! The colors he achieves are astounding. A second intermezzo is the composer at his most daring atonal best: the orchestration is wildly inventive, satirical, and rousing. Then comes a brief bit of humor from the besotted Ivan (Vladimir Kazatchouk), the tenor accompanied by a balalaikas and flexatone (an instrument that creates a whistling sound). Kovalev returns for the piece's central monologue, truly beautiful operatic writing with spare but elegant orchestral accompaniment. The suite ends with one of Shostakovich's specialties, a galop. This work is not only a fine opera now enjoying a come back, but also the suite is so richly detailed an account of the young Shostakovich's gifts that it begs to be performed with regularity.
This is a fascinating recording, extremely well performed and produced and one that surveys the spectrum of Dmitri Shostakovich. Highly Recommended for all audiences, but especially for those devoted to Shostakovich's well-known symphonies. Grady Harp, May 07