SHOSTAKOVICH: The Song of the Forests, Op. 81; The Sun Shines Over the Motherland, Op. 90; Ten Songs on Words of Revolutionary Poets, Op. 88 – Vladimir Ivanovsky, tenor/ Ivan Perrov, bass/ Boy’s Choir of Moscow State Chorus/ USSR Academic Russian Choir/ Moscow Philharmonic Orch./ Yuri Ulanov/ USSR Sym. Orch./ Konstantin Ivanov/ Leningrad Radio and TV Chorus/ Grigori Sandler – Praga Digitals stereo SACD 350 060 (from live stereo-only analog master tapes), 79:00 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***1/2:
The elephant in the room when talking about the music of Shostakovich is always pieces like the ones found on this disc. The composer was required to bend the knee every so often to the doctrine of Soviet realism, and a certain manner of emperor worship, as a substitute for the vigorously persecuted Christianity, had to be practiced. In some instances it actually won the composer official accolades; The Song of the Forests received the Stalin Prize, first class, and set the model for a number of similar oratorios, co-opted by the state in this regard for political purposes and dictator-idolization in the same way Handel used the form for religious purposes in England. In this case it is the great leader’s project of the re-forestation of Russia that gets the praise. Similarly, such schlock as The Sun Shines Over the Motherland was also designed to elicit patriotic fervor and to protect the composer from the criticism that he inevitably caught for so many other of his works, including pieces written at about the same time as these. Curiously enough, if you blot out the words (which I can do since there are no translations given in the booklet notes) you are left with music that is quite beautiful, moving, and different—in some cases radically different—from what we usually expect of this composer.
The Ten Songs on Words of Revolutionary Poets is based on his feelings about the 1905 revolution, which poets of the period affected him greatly, so much so that it was difficult for him to express it in music. Nevertheless, following the words closely he created music that can be vastly different from piece to piece, and even used one of the songs, “The 9th of January”, in his Symphony No. 11 years later. Again, not having the texts in front of me it is difficult to assess the connection between inspiration and results, but the choral work is excellent, his first experience in composing for a Capella chorus.
These recordings were originally issued in 1963 (Op. 81 and 88), and 1961 (Op. 90) in analog of course. These SACD transfers (stereo-only, please take note) are vividly clear and well-focused, much better than any number of Soviet recordings I have heard in the past. The performances are very good indeed, though we will never know how heartfelt they actually were. Not necessarily a mandatory acquisition by any means, but well-prepared and produced, and a fine and interesting item for the Shostakovich completest.
Jazz meets pop in this appealing 1970 Stan Getz vinyl reissue.