Thu, Nov 06, 2014 - Page 11 News List

Classical DVD and CD reviews

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

Here, Naxos has a huge achievement under its belt, as last month signaled the conclusion of its Shostakovich Symphonic Cycle, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under the still relatively youthful Vasily Petrenko.

The final item to be released, the Symphony No: 13 (“Babi Yar”), is a dense, apocalyptic work composed around five poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. These all center on German anti-Semitism, with the first focusing on the nightmarish massacre of Jews by Nazi forces during World War II at the Babi Yar ravine in Kiev, the modern capital of Ukraine. Over 33,000 people were murdered there in a single, hideous operation.

Soviet anti-Semitism is also touched upon in the symphony. Moscow authorities were alerted of the work in 1962, which led to the withdrawal of the original conductor and bass soloist prior to the premiere. The concert went ahead nonetheless, although Yevtushenko was pressured to revise some of his poems for later performances. Shostakovich, by contrast, never wrote the revised words into his personal score.

Jewish influences are detectable in many places in Shostakovich’s music, but this symphony must stand as his major indictment of the Holocaust as a whole. Petrenko’s version has been widely praised, as has the bass soloist Alexander Vinogradov, even if the choral forces (the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and the Huddersfield Choral Society) have sometimes been deemed to lack the sonorous masculinity of a true Russian male-voice choir.

But what really deserves the fullest praise is Petrenko’s achievement over the cycle as a whole. What with the unexpectedly persuasive 3rd, the attention to unnoticed corners of the 5th, the magnificent, unparalleled 8th, and the universally acclaimed 10th, his versions are likely, on the whole, the finest in the catalogue.

THE SOVIET EXPERIENCE

Pacifica Quartet

Complete Shostakovich quartets and more

Cedille BOX 1003

Finally, an attractive boxed set has emerged from the Cedille label containing all of Shostakovich’s string quartets, plus four quartets by his contemporaries, each played by the US-based Pacifica Quartet. The tone is sensitive rather than abrasive, and the whole package, four CDs containing 19 quartets, has been highly praised. The additional composers represented are Nikolai Miaskovsky, Alfred Schnittke, Sergei Prokofiev and Mieczyslaw Weinberg.

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