Paavo Järvi / Estonian Concert Choir / Estonian National Symphony Orchestra

Shostakovich: Cantatas

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The works composed by Dmitry Shostakovich immediately after he was crushed for a second time by the Soviet cultural bureaucracy are duly noted in histories, but rarely actually performed. Yet here they are, and not by one of Vladimir Putin's cultural apparatchiks, but by an all-Estonian cast under the leadership of one of the greatest Baltic musicians of our time: conductor Paavo Järvi. It's a bit hard to figure out what Järvi is up to. What is here are three splashy patriotic works in which there's hardly a dissonance in sight. This recording is taken from a live performance that occasioned considerable controversy in Estonia despite Järvi's celebrity, and the two earlier works, The Sun Shines over Our Motherland, Op. 90, and The Song of the Forests, Op. 81, must indeed have been a bit hard for non-Russian audiences to take. Shostakovich borrows heavily from the language of popular film music, and he lays on the melodrama, complete with children's choir, pretty thick. By the time of the later The Execution of Stepan Razin, Op. 119, with its text by Yevgeny Yevtushenko about a rebellious historical martyr, one will begin to see the ways in which Shostakovich would once again begin to address the Russian condition directly. Järvi leads off with this work, and as for the other two, he has said that it's clear Shostakovich did not believe one word he was writing. He seems to think of this music as essential to a complete picture of Shostakovich, as akin to something like Beethoven's Wellington's Victory, as a potboiler stage to be worked through in the complex career of a great composer. Viewed in this way, there is indeed something compelling about the music.

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