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Shostakovich: Execution Of Stepan Razin

by Steven Bergman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Oct 8, 2013
Shostakovich: Execution Of Stepan Razin

Ondine Records and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra continue their exclusive recording agreement with this powerful release featuring three works from one of Russia's most recognized and respected composers, Dmitri Shostakovich.

Shostakovich (1906-1975) spent his life struggling to balance his political views against the socialist philosophies of his home country's leaders with the determination for musical freedom in his writing. During the 1950's and early 1960's, Russia experienced an artistic "thaw," as the Khrushchev regime lifted restrictions on its citizens' creations, regardless of their political viewpoint. It was during this fortunate time that Shostakovich came in contact with one of the outspoken, young poets of the time, Yevgeny Yevtushenko. The writer acted as the significantly older composer's muse, writing the texts that would inspire Shostakovich's famed 13th Symphony ("Babi Yar"), and the work that dominates this recording, "The Execution of Stepan Razin." Yevtushenko's text recites a 17th century tale of Razin, who is being executed for his crimes against the government. Shostakovich's score powerfully supports the dual perspectives of an ignorant town, which at first celebrates the appearance of the famed rebel, but is followed by their remorse upon Razin's death when they understand the man's rhetoric on their behalf. The cantata's theatricality is appealing, particularly during the third and final scene, in which Razin's severed head mocks the leaders who have killed him. Bass-baritone Shenyang portrays both the narrator and the rebel, giving both characters the attitudes necessary to tell them apart, while presenting the Russian text. The State Choir "Latvija" sings the town's track with enthusiasm.

Also featured on this CD is an orchestral suite of Shostakovich's music to the film, "Zoya" (1944). The five movements are one of 35 film scores the composer wrote in this lifetime, and contains themes and styles highly reminiscent of his countrymen, Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky.

The final piece is a song cycle based on Finnish folk themes. Shostakovich was known for his bow to folk music in the Russian / Nordic region, yet this piece went undiscovered for decades, only receiving its premiere in 2001. The short cycle (all seven songs only encompass eleven minutes) is sung delightfully by the young tandem of soprano Mari Palo and tenor Tuomas Katajala.

This recording is a poignant presenting by the orchestra, under the baton of the famed performer, Vladmir Ashenazy, of three lesser known works by Dmitri Shostakovich.

"The Execution of Stepan Razin"
Dmitri Shostakovich / Vladmir Ashenazy / Shenyang
CD and digital formats
Ondine Records

Steven Bergman is a Composer / Playwright / Performing Arts Educator based outside of Boston, MA.


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