Suite on Words of Michelangelo, Op.145a
Six Romances on Verses by Raleigh, Burns and Shakespeare, Op.140
Ildar Abdrazakov (bass)
Recorded between 5-7 April 2005 in Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester
Reviewed by: Andrew Toovey
Reviewed: June 2006
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN10358
Duration: 73 minutes
From the opening trumpet fanfare it is immediately apparent that one is in for a dark and emotional journey, full of musical profundity. Shostakovich has titled each of the movements from his “Suite on Words of Michelangelo”: ‘Truth’, ‘Parting’, ‘Anger’, ‘Night’, ‘Death’, ‘Immortality’, etc., thus stimulating the imagination.
These settings vividly point to the fact that at the time of composition Shostakovich had been told his heart condition was incurable. In ‘To the Exile’ the tubular bells are like a death toll amid a restrained shimmer of strings. The orchestration in ‘Creativity’ is like a parody of some of his much earlier music, biting and dissonant with harsh sounds from whip, bass drum and gong. The Michelangelo poems are wonderful and well translated as part of a booklet that also includes an excellent note by Philip Taylor that sets the scene for all the works within their historical context.
For all the darkness and depth, these are very touching and beautiful songs, and Ildar Abdrazakov perfectly brings out every emotional nuance. The orchestration is sparse, with a clarity and exactness that conveys the inner meaning of the poems: an excellent foil to the emotional intensity of Abdrazakov’s rich bass voice.
In 1971, Shostakovich arranged for a small orchestra the “Six Romances on Verses by Raleigh, Burns and Shakespeare”, originally composed in 1942 (as Opus 62) for voice and piano. In emotional quality, these songs share a great deal with the Michelangelo settings. The lighter songs are a welcome contrast to the generally darker mood of the majority in the set. The setting of Burns’s ‘McPherson before his execution’ has great sarcastic wit, while Burns’s ‘Jenny’ is light and playful in mood, the celesta adding a child-like quality. ‘The King’s Campaign’ (after “The Grand Old Duke of York”) has the feel of a drunken pub song, but in its brevity (43 seconds, here) does not outstay its welcome.
The little-performed symphonic poem, October, provides a perfect conclusion to this CD. Written in 1967 for the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution, its mood initially anticipates the darkness of the Michelangelo settings but quickly develops into an exciting orchestral canvas of outbursts and emotional density.
The performances and recordings are wonderfully vivid, capturing perfectly this journey of mostly-dark exploration.