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CD Review

Dmitri Shostakovich

  • The Execution of Stepan Razin, Op. 119
  • October, Op. 131
  • Five Fragments, Op. 42
Charles Robert Austin, Bass-Baritone
Seattle Symphony Orchestra & Chorale/Gerard Schwarz
Naxos 8.557812
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This is an excellent recording in every respect, extraordinary music-making in vivid sound. The main work, The Execution of Stepan Razin, has received few recordings over the years. Shostakovich's admirers have often cited it as the most unjustly neglected major work of the composer's. The old Kondrashin recording on Melodiya was the première recording and always considered the benchmark against the relatively weak and sparse competition.

This effort by Schwarz would now be my first choice, not least because of the vivid and powerful sonics. Schwarz has been effective in American repertory recorded for Delos, which generally featured symphonies by the likes of Diamond, Creston, Mennin, Hanson and others. The only previous disc of his I know of dealing with Russian repertory was a 1986 Delos issue of Suites 1 & 2 from Prokofieff's Roméo and Juliet. It did not bode well in its somewhat lethargic pacing for the then-young Schwarz and his Seattle Symphony Orchestra. So, this one came as a pleasant surprise: the performance bristles with spirit and energy, Schwarz catching the darkness and acid in correct measure. Charles Robert Austin sings brilliantly throughout and so do the chorus.

I suppose the big question is, why is this 1996 recording of Stepan Razin being released now? My guess is that in 1996 Schwarz was still under contract to Delos, who probably also recorded the performance. But Schwarz switched to Naxos, who must have acquired the Stepan Razin recording as well, as it did with several other Delos/Schwarz recordings of American music. Whatever the case, Naxos has a real winner here. The fillers are also well performed, though one could wish one or two others might have been chosen. The Five Fragments are hardly masterpieces, but I'll limit my complaining to that alone since this is such an extraordinary disc. Strongly recommended.

Copyright © 2006, Robert Cummings