Voice Of The People

Release Date: 4/13/2010
Label: MSR Classics
Catalog Number: 1344
Number of Discs: 1

Physical Format:

Notes and Editorial Reviews

SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Sonata, op. 134 1. FRANK Sueños de Chambi 2. 4 Canciones Andinas 3 1,2 Shem Guibbory (vn); 3 Susanna Eyton-Jones (sop); 1 Elizaveta Kopelman, 2 Sonia Rubinsky, 3 Craig Ketter (pn) MSR 1344 (72:05 Text and Translation)

Frank Daykin eloquently sets forth the underlying agenda of this release, titled Voice of the People , in his liner notes. He posits that humanity, universally, desires to live in societies that provide a modicum of security and well-being. He goes on to say that rarely has this been attained, and that totalitarian regimes have always feared the power of artists of all disciplines in communicating, on a host of levels, the aspirations of the people at large. They have striven to corral that power, realizing that failure to do so can prove catastrophic to their overarching agendas. In our own time, our understanding of the life and times of Dmitri Shostakovich, bolstered by Solomon Volkov’s book Testament , chronicles Shostakovich’s high-wire act. He was, in the early days of the Soviet Union, its golden boy. In its eyes he was an avatar of all that was modern and progressive who had attained both international praise and popularity at home. With the ascendancy of Joseph Stalin and that dictator’s subsequent revulsion over his opera Lady of the Mtsensk District , Shostakovich sank to the level of persona non grata. The opera was damned as being “formalistic” and, in its coruscating dissonance and blatant sexuality, anti-Soviet. As a result, Shostakovich spent the years until the dictator’s death in 1953 in fear of being shipped off to a gulag in the middle of the night. Those years presented an emotional roller coaster ride wherein he struggled to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the authorities (his Fifth Symphony and Song of the Forest ) while consigning his more progressive works to the desk drawer. He was, however, always a humanist at heart with an underlying need to subvert arbitrary authority, and so produced and had performed a number of potentially subversive works, among them his 13th Symphony (with texts by Yevgeny Yevtushenko).

I have always regarded Shostakovich’s last works as his most telling. They are suffused with a dark mixture of bitterness and fatalistic resignation. Both the Violin Sonata, op. 134 (dedicated to David Oistrakh), and the Viola Sonata, op. 147, present those affective element’s their most extreme distillations.

American composer Gabriela Lena Frank (b. 1972) presents a metaphorical parallel to Shostakovich’s life experience. Both of her works present her lamentation over the subsumation and destruction of the indigenous Peruvian culture by the Spanish conquistadors. The first of them, Sueños de Chambi: Snapshots for an Andean Album , was inspired by photographs by Martin Chambi (1891–1973), who documented Peru’s vanishing pre-Spanish ways of life. The second, Cuatros Canciones Andinas (texts by José Maria Arguedas), presents three heartbreaking poems about love and loss. In all cases her music is tonal and disarmingly simple, but, in its Amerindian subtlety, goes right to the heart of that culture. Her mission in both works is to achieve a telling balance between those two cultural currents. Her results are ear-opening.

These performances are extraordinary. String players are, to me, closest to vocalists. Their very sound can make or break a piece of music. Violinist Shem Guibbory’s tone is arresting from note 1. His intonation is exemplary, and his rhythmic acuity brings all the flavors of Gabriela Lena Frank’s Sueños de Chambi: Snapshots for an Andean Album to the fore. His performance of the Shostakovich is on the same level as that of Oistrakh himself, and of Yuri Bashmet’s recording of Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata. By the same token, Susanna Eyton-Jones’s soprano vividly realizes both the power and the nuances of the text before her.

While I’m in a praising vein, I found the sound of this CD exceptional. Guibbory’s violin sounds rich and nuanced. Susanna Eyton-Jones’s soprano sounds similarly full bodied and beautiful from pianissimo to full cry. In the interest of full disclosure, I have a state-of-the-art turntable and still spin a lot of vinyl for my own amusement and pleasure. I love that old sound while still enjoying the virtues of the CD. Few CDs, however, have the warmth and detail of this offering. Reading its notes, I realized that it was produced by Shem Guibbory. What a revelation! A CD actually produced by a musician and not a run-of-the-mill record producer.

The results are, well, as you can more than probably discern from what is already written…

FANFARE: William Zagorski
Works on This Recording
1. Sueños de Chambi: Shapshots for an Andean Album, for violin & piano by Gabriela Lena Frank
Performer: Shem Guibbory (Violin), Sonia Rubinsky (Piano)
Period: Contemporary
Written: 2002 ;
2. Cuatro Canciones Andinas, for soprano & piano by Gabriela Lena Frank
Period: Contemporary
Written: 1999 ;
3. Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 134 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Performer: Shem Guibbory (Violin), Elizaveta Kopelman (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1968 ; USSR
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