I don't think anyone would argue that Shostakovich put his greatest genius into his choral work, which occupies a tiny portion of the Russian master's output. Still, thanks to Brilliant Classics for this disc, which is both excellently sung and worth hearing for the music alone. For those wanting to take the plunge, its' also part of the same label's magnificent Shostakovich Edition, chock full of essential performances. Is this essential? Tough to say, but it shows a side of the composer not often explored, and that's important enough.
You might expect the Ten Poems to sound a touch more rigid given their Socialist texts, and while they have a somewhat military feel at times, there are also moments of great beauty and unexpectedly lovely harmonics. Some of the writing calls Rachmaninoff to mind, but taken as a whole it is vintage Shostakovich. The singing requires a huge range and choral virtuosity. Spitting out the poems at lightning speed sounds hard, and one suspects it is. For the most part, the chorus sings brilliantly, with a few moments of roughness that somehow seem right in this music.
The Ten Russian Folk Songs are bluntly, much more folksy. They are also coincidently much more fun, sounding like jaunty drinking songs. They aren't any less innovative though, as the composer uses his soloists and choir to dazzling effect. Shostakovich, himself an accomplished pianist, also manages to put the accompaniment through every hurdle he can. It's very Russian, and very rustic, but again there is no question that a master composer is at work, and everyone seems to be having a good time. Again, I'm not sure if this is essential, but I'd be poorer without it. Take a chance on some music you probably didn't know existed. You might just find you really, really like it. At Brilliant Classics' reasonable prices, and with great sound and artistry, you can afford to find out.
Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman