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Max Westler
Enjoy the Music, January 2012

Performance
Sound Quality
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The music is full of excitement and color, one of Shostakovitch’s most unashamedly Romantic scores…These tense, aphoristic pieces—alternately spiky and dreamlike—are haunting…very detailed and involving…this disc would…be highly recommended. © 2012 Enjoy the Music Read complete review




Penguin Guide, January 2009

The Execution of Stepan Razin is a setting of Yevtushenko and comes two years after the Thirteen Symphony. It does not have the concentration or emotional intensity of the symphony, but it is well worth hearing. Kondrashin’s pioneering recording of 1969 is no longer in circulation; until it returns, this well-played and expertly recorded version will serve well, particularly at its modest price.



Arthur Lintgen
Fanfare, January 2007

There have been numerous new releases of the music of Shostakovich in this centenary of his birth. This is an interesting and well-chosen collection of relatively obscure pieces that are quite variable in quality. The Execution of Stepan Razin is a major work, which I would not hesitate to call a masterpiece based on its intensity alone. The music reflects Shostakovich's take on the Russian vocal and choral tradition in general, and the influence of Mussorgsky in particular, but it is unmistakably Shostakovich from beginning to end. The basic style is similar to his 13th Symphony that immediately preceded it. Some quiet orchestral passages are also reminiscent of the first movement of the 11th Symphony. Both choral pieces utilize texts by Yevgeny Yevlushenko. Stepan Razin was a 17th-century Cossack leader and folk hero who was executed after leading a revolt against Tsar Alexis I (the father of Peter the Great). The Execution of Stepan Razin is relentlessly grim, with lean orchestration, piercing dissonances, and powerful percussion effects to augment the highly effective choral and solo writing.

The 13-minute symphonic poem, October, is another matter entirely. It is still another musical commemoration of the 1917 revolution that seems to bring out the worst in Shostakovich (previously addressed in Symphonies 2 and 12). October is a relatively inconsequential work, in the style of his more banal film scores but a bit better, in that it is more understated. The Five Fragments are a fascinating collection of miniature chamber pieces that emanated from the maelstrom of creative energy that spawned the amazing Fourth Symphony.

The importance of this album will depend on your reaction to this interpretation of The Execution of Stepan Razin. It will be an overwhelming experience for anyone who has not had the good fortune to hear a good live performance or Herbert Kegel's electrifying Philips recording. Charles Robert Austin is excellent and sounds suitably Russian. In some ways, he is better than Siegfried Vogel in the Philips album. Vogel is listed as a bass and Austin is a bass-baritone, but it is Austin who sounds more authentically Russian. The chorus is adequate, but sounds slightly under­powered and too civilized for this grisly music.

The sound is straightforward to a fault. It is not as overtly spectacular or dynamic as it should be for The Execution of Stepan Razin, especially from the standpoint of the pivotal percussion effects. Bass punch is impressive, but the high frequencies lack presence and bite. The orchestral bells are nicely integrated with the orchestra to produce a truly eerie and unsettling effect that is superior to the high-pitched bells in the Philips version. The orchestra and chorus are both miked closely, so they blend well with an upfront aural perspective. Largely because of the choral and percussion effects, I would love to hear The Execution of Stepan Razin recorded by Telarc in Atlanta.

This recording of The Execution of Stepan Razin is a welcome addition to the CD catalog, and is more than adequate, even if it does not eclipse the dazzling Kegel interpretation.



Hansen
American Record Guide, October 2006

Stepan Razin is getting increased attention of late. Not so long after I reviewed Polyansky's fine recording (May/June 2002), the Chicago Symphony presented it at its Ravinia summer home under James Conlon. Now Naxos brings us Schwarz's hair-raising interpretation of startling intensity that almost meets Conlon and exceeds Polyansky. From the tense, driving opening section to the volcanic force of the piece's bone-crushing ending, Schwarz and his players and singers take the listener for a heart­stopping ride of remarkable drama and power. Half-way competently done, Stepan will have a great effect on an audience; performed with as much intensity as it is here, few listeners will argue that its compact, 28-minute form is not the equal of the 13th Symphony. (For a fuller discussion of the music, see my earlier review.)

The Seattle Symphony's recording staff has captured Stepan in rich, clear recorded sound that outdoes the excellent sonics that Chandos gave Polyansky. Stepan was recorded in the closer, warmer sound of the Seattle Opera House, which gives it a slight technical edge over the other two works here. The others were recorded later, in Benaroya Hall, which may account for the slightly more cavernous, less distinct sound, which is not out of place in the vast scope of the somber, late tone poem, October, written in 1967 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Revolution.

The Five Fragments, Op. 42, date from 1935 and remind one of the short orchestral sketches by Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. Steven Lowe's excellent album notes describe them as "practice runs" for the Fourth Symphony. A concert performance under Rostropovich has been issued by Andante, but Schwarz brings greater substance to this somewhat equivocal music.

This disc is well worth its modest asking price for Stepan Razin alone. That you can get it coupled with other rare, interesting works that you may not even have in your collection is a bonus. Best of all, we get an all-too-rare chance to hear one of our outstanding American orchestras in top form.



David Green
May 2006

With respect to the heavier works of Dmitry Shostakovich, here are some examples with plenty of weight.

"The Execution of Stepan Razin" is his 1964 setting of Yevgeny Yevtushenko's 1933 macabre poem on the beheading of a Cossack chief who had rebelled against Czar Alexis I. The severed head continues the defiance.

The grisly tale is sung by bass-baritone Charles Robert Austin, backed by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chorale under Gerard Schwarz.

With the "Razin" is "October", another of Shostakovich's tributes to the Communist revolution, this one a tone poem on the 50th anniversary.

Rounding out the disc are "Five Fragments", which Steven Lowe's notes say were "practice runs" for the composer's "Fourth Symphony".

Heavy, yes, but interesting.



R.D.
ClassicalCDReview.com, May 2006

From east of the Alps, Naxos has two clear winners out of three new releases — music by Shostakovich and Josef Bohuslav Foerster (1859-1951) – not that the third (piano concertos by Dmitry Kabalevsky) is negligble, but musically those are either conventional or imitative despite the composer’s proficiency. The prize is Gerard Schwarz’s enkindling leadership of The Execution of Stepan Razin, a cantata composed in 1964 to the grisly poem about a 17th-century revolutionary by Yevgeni Yevtuschenko, whose scandalous “Babij Yar” Shostakovich had dared to set to music as his 13th Symphony two years earlier. (Because the poet blamed Soviet troops rather than the Nazis for the mass execution of Polish Jews at Babij Yar, a shocked party hierarchy insisted the text be modified after the first performance in 1962, and banned further performances within the USSR for three years after, by which time, however, it had become a cause célébre throughout the western world.) Whereas much of “Babij Yar” was wryly muted, Stepan Razin is as bloodthirsty a score – and a masterwork – as anything Shostakovich had written since the massacre music in his Eleventh (The Year of 1905) Symphony. It was as if he dared the apparatchiks who censored “Babij Yar” to attack again. Scored for chorus, orchestra and bass-baritone soloist (Charles Robert Austin may not be Russian but sings heroically), Schwarz’s Seattle forces rise to the occasion with a passion surpassing their other Shostakovich performances for not-quite-defunct Delos or more recently Naxos. The irony is that Stepan Razin was performed and superbly recorded 10 years ago, during June 1996, in the Opera House that sonically compromised concerts but was an outstanding recording chamber when Adam Stern was the producer; the sound yields nothing to the Mark Taper Auditorium in Benaroya Hall where October was recorded in 2000 (again with Stern producing). This late work commemorating the golden jubilee of the 1917 Revolution, is hardly less grim than Stenka Razin, apart from a celebratory coda that Shostakovich, because he was a great composer, managed to muster for the occasion without debilitating what had gone before. The Five Fragments, a Taper/Benaroya production from 2005, was test material for the Fourth Symphony (finished in 1935-36 but not performed for a quarter of a century) — piquant music of substance and fantasy in spite of its brevity (1:21; 1:02; 3:48; 2:51, and 1:33). But Stalin meanwhile had heard and hated Lady Macbeth from the District of Mszensk, and a historic damnation of it and its composer on the front page of Pravda made Shostakovich fearful for his life. Both Rostropovich and Mark Elder have recorded the Fragments, although hardly better than Schwarz and his players, but there is not currently an alternative version of October, not that there needs to be. This one is gritty in the best sense – a genuine centennial tribute to the composer’s memory, and his genius.





Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, March 2006

This release brings together three, very interesting rarities from the pen of one of the greatest symphonist of the twentieth-century, Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). Although "The Execution of Stepan Razin" is described as a symphonic poem for baritone, chorus and orchestra, it comes off more like a cantata with political overtones in somewhat the same way as Sergei Prokofiev's "Alexander Nevsky." Shostakovich used a poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko for the text just as he had done two years earlier in his "Babi Yar" symphony (the thirteenth). Ostensibly it tells about the seventeenth-century, Cossack rebel Stepan Razin's unsuccessful revolt against Tsar Alexis I, who was the father of Peter the Great; but, with Shostakovich's music it becomes a celebration of the never-ending battle waged by the proletariat against brutal, repressive forces. Like the symphony it's a highly emotional piece with Russian, folk overtones. The music is extremely energetic, very colorfully orchestrated and boasts choral writing worthy of the Prokofiev mentioned above as well as Modeste Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov." The tone poem "October," like his second and twelfth symphonies, commemorates the great, Russian Revolution that occurred in October 1917. While it may remind you in spots of other Soviet, symphonic, political potboilers, it's certainly several orders of magnitude better than the earlier of the aforementioned symphonies. Perspicacious listeners will detect similarities to his tenth symphony, which many think his best, and the "DSCH" (D, Eb, C, B) motif that he used so frequently. The "Five Fragments" which end this concert are fascinating, squirrely scraps that were reportedly "practice runs" for his fourth symphony. Be that as it may, you'll find them delightfully playful, devil-may-care tidbits, which at times seem to be spoofing what many consider the "dodecacophony" dished up by the likes of Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton von Webern. Taken as a whole, this piece might easily be mistaken for a recently discovered, long lost, Shostakovich symphony written around the same time as his off-the-wall, valedictory fifteenth. All of the performances are superb with bass-baritone Charles Austin in commanding voice and the Seattle Symphony Chorus and Orchestra under conductor Gerard Schwarz in top form. Those who prefer a wetter (more reverberant) sound will find the recording quite spectacular.



Robert Levine
Amazon.com, March 2006

The story of Cossack Stepan Razin, who, in the 17th century, led a bloody peasants' revolt against the Tsar, is perfect fodder for Shostakovich. This rarely performed cantata is an exciting, violent work. Composed in 1964, with Shostakovich free of Stalin's repression, it shows the composer at his most angry, bitter, and sorrowful. Razin's piercing eyes, shining out even more brightly from his severed head, terrified the Tsar; in the words of the cantata's narrator (from a poem by Yevtushenko) "without concealing its triumph/the head began to guffaw at the Tsar." Bass-baritone Charles Robert Austin sings both Razin and the narrator with force and great expression. Gerard Schwarz and his Seattle Symphony whip the score into a frenzy. The 13-minute tone poem "October" is another rarity, commemorating the October Revolution. It quotes from the 10th Symphony but is entirely original in conception: beginning moderately, it ends in a maniacal march. The final work is "Five Fragments," and it is just that: a series of bits, none longer than 4 minutes long, that are "practice runs" for the 4th Symphony. They are worth hearing: one features bassoon, clarinet, and oboe, another is sweet and tender, and the last, beginning with snare drum and violin, is nice and creepy. Highly recommended.



Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, March 2006

This release brings together three, very interesting rarities from the pen of one of the greatest symphonist of the twentieth-century, Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). Although "The Execution of Stepan Razin" is described as a symphonic poem for baritone, chorus and orchestra, it comes off more like a cantata with political overtones in somewhat the same way as Sergei Prokofiev's "Alexander Nevsky." Shostakovich used a poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko for the text just as he had done two years earlier in his "Babi Yar" symphony (the thirteenth). Ostensibly it tells about the seventeenth-century, Cossack rebel Stepan Razin's unsuccessful revolt against Tsar Alexis I, who was the father of Peter the Great; but, with Shostakovich's music it becomes a celebration of the never-ending battle waged by the proletariat against brutal, repressive forces. Like the symphony it's a highly emotional piece with Russian, folk overtones. The music is extremely energetic, very colorfully orchestrated and boasts choral writing worthy of the Prokofiev mentioned above as well as Modeste Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov." The tone poem "October," like his second and twelfth symphonies, commemorates the great, Russian Revolution that occurred in October 1917. While it may remind you in spots of other Soviet, symphonic, political potboilers, it's certainly several orders of magnitude better than the earlier of the aforementioned symphonies. Perspicacious listeners will detect similarities to his tenth symphony, which many think his best, and the "DSCH" (D, Eb, C, B) motif that he used so frequently. The "Five Fragments" which end this concert are fascinating, squirrelly scraps that were reportedly "practice runs" for his fourth symphony. Be that as it may, you'll find them delightfully playful, devil-may-care tidbits, which at times seem to be spoofing what many consider the "dodecacophony" dished up by the likes of Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton von Webern. Taken as a whole, this piece might easily be mistaken for a recently discovered, long lost, Shostakovich symphony written around the same time as his off-the-wall, valedictory fifteenth. All of the performances are superb with bass-baritone Charles Austin in commanding voice and the Seattle Symphony Chorus and Orchestra under conductor Gerard Schwarz in top form. Those who prefer a wetter (more reverberant) sound will find the recording quite spectacular. One final thought; there are two, fairly recent, outstanding, boxed set releases of all fifteen symphonies that you should be aware of. One of them under conductor Rudolf Barshai should appeal to bargain hunters, while the other with Dmitri Kitayenko on the podium, is in hybrid format and guaranteed to give audiophiles a fearful earful.




Charles_Robert_Austin
The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 2006

On March 21st, Naxos released a new disc of the composer’s music with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony, who are hosting a Shostakovich festival March 29th-April 15th. The CD features the symphonic poems The Execution of Stepan Razin (1967) with the Seattle Symphony Chorale and bass-baritone Charles Robert Austin, and October (1964). Also included are the Five Fragments from 1935, written while Shostakovich was planning his Fourth Symphony.

In her March 26th preview of Seattle Symphony’s festival, Melinda Bargreen of the Seattle Times (circulation: 466,000) praised the “robust, colorful performances” on the new CD. R.M. Campbell of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (circulation: 148,000) also singled out the disc on March 24th, as did Anastasia Tsioulcas in the April 1st Billboard (circulation: 100,000).

A review by David Hurwitz on ClassicsToday.com (175,000 visitors/month) effusively praised the recording:

The execution of Stepan Razin is a sort of sequel to the 13th Symphony, in that it sets a poem by Yevtushenko and even shares some thematic elements. It really is a magnificent work, and at half an hour, a major statement. Shostakovich put all of his considerable skill as a composer of film music into making the accompaniments as colorful as possible, while the choral writing and passages for bass solo are thrilling. Why it's not better known remains a mystery: it deserves to be as popular as Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky or Rachmaninov's The Bells . . . Very fine sound, with a big, rich bass response that suits the music well, seals the deal. Essential for Shostakovich fans.






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6:03:32 PM, 28 August 2014
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