The continuing growth in interest in the music of Dmitry Shostakovich has led to major recordings even of works that haven't been played much since they received their premieres in the composer's immediate circle. The first two works on this Finnish release might fit that category; the final Suite on Finnish Themes is still rarer, having only recently been rediscovered. The two larger works might be paired with symphonies that were contemporary with them and could easily make companion pieces for those symphonies in concert. The Execution of Stepan Razin for bass, chorus, and orchestra, Op. 119, was composed in 1964. Its symphonic cousin is the Symphony No. 13 ("Babi Yar"), composed on texts by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. The text of this cantata was from a later set of poems by Yevtushenko, who by that time, in the more restrictive atmosphere that followed the overthrow of Nikita Khrushchev, had fallen into disfavor. Shostakovich, however, was more or less untouchable, and furthermore there is nothing in the score to offend socialist-realist orthodoxy: the work is a blood-and-guts action cantata, complete with rolling severed head à la Symphonie fantastique. It would make any audience sit up and take notice on a program of Russian music. The Zoya Suite, from 1944, consists of selections from a partly lost film score about the Soviet war effort against Nazi Germany. The relevant symphony here is No. 7, but the work is even more conservative in style, as are most of Shostakovich's film scores. The music has a genuine sense of simple tragedy, however, and it's unlike anything else in the composer's oeuvre. The Suite on Finnish Themes is simpler still; it is essentially a group of folk song settings. In no way is this collection a cornerstone Shostakovich release, yet there isn't a dull moment on it, and Vladimir Ashkenazy, leading the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, a Latvian choir, and a stellar trio of soloists including the sensational single-named Chinese bass-baritone Shenyang, is clearly having fun with the project. Recommended for Shostakovich lovers.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Zoya Suite, Op. 64a|
|Suite on Finnish Themes|