Shostakovich Words of Michelangelo
Shostakovich’s Michelangelo settings – reflections on love, death, creativity and immortality – are part of his magnificently bleak last will and testament. They do not reach out over the language barrier quite as vividly as, say, Symphony No 14 (also a cycle of 11 orchestral songs), and for that reason alone, perhaps, they have not enjoyed too many recordings. Those that have been made have generally been first-rate, however, and this new one from Chandos is no exception.
The young Ildar Abdrazakov is somewhat more generalised in his delivery than the Suite’s dedicatee Yevgeny Nesterenko (on a famous Melodiya LP set, issued on CD only in Japan). But Abdrazakov’s restraint brings its own rewards, allowing the songs to speak with stoical wisdom, the more so thanks to his fabulously steady tone, which remains rich and euphonious across the entire register and dynamic range. The BBC Philharmonic and their principal conductor accompany with refinement and well aimed attack.
Products of the USSR’s wartime alliance with the UK, and composed in between the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, the Six Romances on verses by British poets (Raleigh, Burns and Shakespeare, plus a version of The Grand Old Duke of York) are characteristically caustic in tone. If they are slightly more familiar to CD collectors, that is largely thanks to the composer’s second orchestration, of 1971, heard here (for smaller ensemble than the rarely performed 1943 version). This is another full-blooded performance and finely judged recording, and the same goes for Shostakovich’s punchy offering – far more than a mere token one – for the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution.