Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues and his Poems on Texts by Revolutionary Poets both date from that period in the early-1950s when the composer was still trying to get back into Stalin’s good books by producing patriotic, unquestioning music.
So it is startling how subversive the Preludes and Fugues, at least, are: it is impossible to miss the angst surfacing from the apparently placid No.1, for example, or the many dissonances which Alexander Melnikov delivered with a kind of controlled rage utterly appropriate to this music. They are overtly Bachian as well, perhaps most obviously in the opening of No.7 – and Melnikov’s style – precise and not over-demonstrative but not lacking in passion either – brought out nicely that aspect of this deceptively complex, multi-layered music too. Most impressive of all was the Prelude of No.3, one of the most hectic and anguished in the sequence, contrasting vividly with the delicate opening of its Fugue.
The six Preludes and Fugues from Melnikov were interspersed with selections from Poems on Texts by Revolutionary Poets. Here the Latvian Radio Choir showed itself firmly in command of the music in a careful, fluent performance. These settings are less musically intriguing than the Preludes and Fugues, and they are not as tediously propagandist as one might fear, being concerned with the struggles of the early Bolsheviks rather than the heroic quota-achievers of the tractor factories.
The highlights were ‘The Shooting Has Grown Silent’ and ‘May Day’; but the choir was efficient throughout (more than achieving its musicality quota, you might say), the men sonorous and the sopranos only very occasionally shrill, their contribution making for an imaginatively-programmed and satisfying contrast to the piano numbers.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms