Gerard Schwarz

Shostakovich: The Execution of Stepan Razin; October; Five Fragments

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For those who already know and love Shostakovich's symphonies and who are looking for more music along the same lines, this fine disc with Gerard Schwarz leading the Seattle Symphony and Chorale may be of interest. The grimly moving "The Execution of Stepan Razin," a monumentally brutal symphonic poem for baritone soloist, chorus and orchestra, is close to the baleful Thirteenth Symphony in time and tone. The darkly powerful "October," an ironically driven symphonic poem on the Russian Revolution, is close to the ironically morbid Fourteenth Symphony in bile and bravery. And the bitterly expressive "Five Fragments" are not only close to the Fourth Symphony, they were essentially test runs for that corrosively acidic work. Schwarz and the Seattle's performances were recorded between 1996 and 2005, but they are all consistently brilliantly colored, deeply committed and strongly convincing performances. Clearly, the Seattle Chorale members aren't Russian -- there's just not enough harshness in their consonants nor enough venom in the vowels -- but they are a superb American chorus and they give Stepan Razin everything they've got. Likewise, Charles Robert Austin, while no Russian, does know his way around the language and no one could fault his enthusiastic singing. Although not at the top of the list for a first time foray in Shostakovich, this fine disc will fill out the shelf for fans of the Soviet composer.

Naxos' sound is characteristically clear and open but uncharacteristically vivid and immediate.

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