Treasurable and inwardly lit singing of these secular delights with pinpoint dynamic control.
Siberian-born Shebalin has come in for some stick because of works such as the Dramatic Symphony on V I Lenin for narrator, four soloists, chorus and orchestra written in 1931, revised 1959 and recorded by Gauk (Olympia OCD204). That’s as may be but other composers including Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Miaskovsky and Kabalevsky, now revered or at least enjoyed, wrote works that sang to the leadership of the day. Our expectations of the lives of composers can often be more demanding and unrealistic than we would expect of ourselves. We frequently leave out of the reckoning the need to earn a crust, even to live. Also we need toRead more reconcile ourselves to the fact that a composer’s actual or seeming support for an odious regime does not preclude attractive music and better.
In addition to the Lenin work Shebalin wrote five symphonies all produced by Olympia: 1 and 3 on OCD577, 2 and 4 on OCD597 and 5 on OCD599. The nine string quartets were also recorded by Olympia. Beyond the now defunct Olympia orbit we find the Horn Concerto on Koch and the Violin Concerto on Regis. Shebalin’s studies were pursued in Omsk (1921-3) and Moscow (1923-3); the latter under Miaskovsky. His works include: Blue May, Free Country, cantata for chorus and orchestra (1930) and Moscow, a cantata for soloists, chorus, organ and orchestra (1946). His four act opera The Taming of the Shrew (1946-1956) was recorded in excerpt form by Melodiya. There’s another called Sun over the Steppe (1939-1959) as well as reconstructive jobs completed on Mussorgsky's Sorochintsy Fair (1931-1932) and Tchaikovsky's The Voyevoda. He also transcribed Mussorgsky's Night on the Bare Mountain for bass, chorus and orchestra. Like many another Russian composer of the Soviet era he wrote for the cinema – there are 21 scores.
The singing of these a cappella pieces - 36 tracks some very short - is magnificent. These settings are by turns resolute and poetic with plenty of variety, The choir sports a treasurably silvery and inwardly lit soprano sound. The music evidently matters to these singers and meticulous professional attention is accorded to every note.
The music glows soulfully (tr. 12), shows a carefree elite virtuosity and makes play with skipping pinpoint dynamic variation. Cliff-edge changes are handled superbly. Accurate singing from men in tr. 8 and from the men and women in tr. 24 is a pleasure to hear. It’s really bright and delivered at such speed. More than once the music recalled the English choral settings bv Grainger and Moeran. There’s even some Grainger style humming in tr. 18. Russian plainchant is clearly an influence but delightfully used in a secular context. Setting. Trs 3 and 10 recall the inky-deep basses in the best 1960s Sveshnikov recording of Rachmaninov’s Vespers. The Opp. 57 and 59 collections were written for children’s voices but the women handle them cogently and with great success. The Oh My Dawn chorus from the Glinka film score is soulful rather than march-swinging. The recording has been made in a lovely complementary acoustic.