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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

CD REVIEW - Shostakovich: The Execution of Stepan Razin

Shostakovich: The Execution of Stepan Razin
Music by Dmitry Shostakovich
Naxos 8.557812
7 Tracks 52:22 mins

Though not actually film music, the late Russian composer wrote many film scores alongside his concerts works, and carried his style throughout both, making many of his concert works very accessible and enjoyable to the film music enthusiast's ears.
Three works are presented on this disc, all performed by the Seattle Symphony, conducted by Gerard Schwarz, the first being Shostakovich's 28-minute symphonic poem for baritone soloist, mixed chorus and orchestra The Execution of Stepan Razin, written in 1964, which is based on the 17th century Cossack rebel and folk-hero, who unsuccessfully tried to topple Peter the Great's father Tsar Alexis I from his throne. The piece opens with a tour-de-force of exciting music, big on brass, with soloist Charles Robert Austin and the choir giving all they've got, and will very much appeal to fans of the likes of Conan the Barbarian. This goes on for 6 minutes or so, when things take a quieter mood of foreboding, where Austin carries things until a call to arms once again brings some exciting action. It all ends up in tragedy however with the orchestra ringing out Razin's death knell, before a big finale.
The symphonic poem October follows and was one of the composer's last works, written in 1967 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1917 Revolution. This piece is purely orchestra, and does in fact borrow from one of the composer's film scores from the 1930s Volochayev Days;l and, after a quiet start, moves along constantly, sometimes subdued, sometimes more powerfully, ending in a furious and heroic climax.
The disappointing Five Fragments, from 1935, is experimental and foreshadows the composer's 4th Symphony, concluding the album poorly after some of the exciting music that preceded it.
The accompanying booklet features Steven Lowe's notes on the composer and his featured works and, thanks to Philip Taylor's translations, you can also follow the text of Stepan Razin.


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