Notes and Editorial Reviews
SONGS FROM THE FRONT: Shostakovich Arrangements of 27 Songs
Nikolai Khondzinsky, cond; Russkaya Conservatoria C Cappella Soloists
TOCCATA TOCC0121 (60:40
Text and Translation)
“I am a pretty shepherdess,” sang the charming soubrette in the fashionable Paris salon, “bringing my little basket of fruit and flowers.” Times change, a new singer appears. The scene changes to the back of a truck at the grim Russian front during the Siege of Leningrad where, day by day, for more than 900 days, one million people
starved to death and others—soldiers and civilians—were blown to pieces by enemy fire. The words of Rossini’s breezy little tune also change from Italian to Russian; the piano accompaniment changes (for the better) to a brilliant arrangement for violin and cello, and the audience changes from the social and intellectual elite to the common soldier, frightened and despairing. Perhaps such a silly song in such a grisly setting embodies Shostakovich’s chronic use of irony. It is a severe, characteristically Russian irony, developed over centuries of suffering, which he shares with literature’s Gogol, Chekov, and the more contemporary Solzhenitsyn. It has the peculiar power to evoke hilarity, tears, compassion, and a sense of wonder at the great contradictions in life.
These newly recorded
Songs for the Front
arrangements, variously jolly, patriotic, frivolous, and romantic, include Western European chestnuts and Russian pieces that were probably chestnuts to the original listeners, but will come as a delightful surprise to the modern Western ear. Dunayevsky’s beautiful
Song of the Sea
and the very charming duet from Gulak-Artemovsky’s
A Cossak beyond the Danube
, reminiscent of an Offenbach operetta, are particularly winning.
If the reader finds a Russian Offenbach difficult to imagine, I suggest he buy this album, but there are many other reasons to buy it as well. In fact this disc should appeal to a variety of our “serious record collectors” for a variety of reasons: The performances are impeccable, the sonics brilliant, the repertoire novel, and the arrangements themselves nothing short of marvelous.
The vocal artists on this recording, all members of the Russkaya Conservatoria Chamber Cappella, serve the music well, although none of their attractive, disciplined voices venture into the wider dramatic parameters of a seasoned soloist. Soprano Natalia Pavlova is especially fine, delivering a perfect and perfectly brilliant performance of Rossini’s
Dmitri Volkov’s rich voice, still in early bloom, rings expansively in Rimsky-Korsakov’s
Song of the Varangian Guest.
Notable also is the beautiful sound of violinist Ayako Tanabe, whose singing tone makes many of the introductions more than a pleasure.
Conductor Nikolay Khondzinsky, credited as artistic director and recording supervisor, has done a commendable service to music by making this fascinating repertoire and these superb performances available to us. Perhaps because of the remarkable circumstances under which these arrangements were conceived, one is left with the overriding impression of having received a profoundly important message. Shostakovich put this message into words at the end of his difficult life: “Music is our last hope and final refuge.”
FANFARE: Raymond Beegle
Works on This Recording
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