BRITTEN: War Requiem, Op. 66
SHOSTAKOVICH: The Song of the Forests, Op. 81. The
Sun Shines Over the Motherland, Op,. 90. Ten Poems on Words of Revolutionary
Poets, Op. 88.
DVORÁK: String Quartet No. 9 in D miinor,
Op. 34. String Quartet No. 13 in G, Op. 106.
About a year ago, this site mentioned a magnificent concert performance of Wagner's Parsifal recorded live in Amsterdam's Concertgebouw with Jap Van Zweden conducting the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra (REVIEW). Now we have another memorable live performance from this dynamic conductor, a concert performance of Britten's War Requiem recorded May 28, 2010 in Utrecht's Vredenburg Leidsche Rijn, a venue that obviously also has superb acoustics. Britten's moving and powerful masterpiece has never sounded more impressive than it does on this terrific issue. Soloists are ideal, the choruses are perfect, and orchestral playing could not be bettered. There's not much of a "surround sound" effect, but the overall sonic image is rich and detailed with much presence Highly recommended. The only debit is that more music wasn't included. At super-premium price, the collector well can expect more than 83 minutes of music. There are many fine recordings of this music, notably by Richard Hickox on Chandos, the recent LSO Live issue with Gianandrea Noseda, as well as the essential 1963 recording by the composer.
Shostakovich's Song of the Forests, composed in 1949, celebrates the planting of trees in the Russian steppes following World War II. It consists of seven movements, with music written not to disturb the Soviet government, so much so that it received a Stalin Prize the following year. It is pleasant enough, but melodic, unchallenging music for the composer. This also applies to the 12-minute cantata The Sun Shines Over the Motherland composed in 1952 and scored for mixed chorus, boy's choir and a rather large symphony orchestra. The text focuses on "the sun" which represents the Communist Party leading the Russian people onward and upward. Ten Poems on Texts of Revolutionary Poets dates from the same period (1951) and is scored for a cappella voices, most interesting perhaps because one of the songs, The 9th of January, was used by Shostakovich a few years later in his powerful Symphony No. 11. All of this music is relatively minor Shostakovich very far removed from the drama and intensity of his symphonies, evidence of what a distinguished composer had to do to please the Soviet government at the time. Superlative performances from all, with the richness and sonority usually associatyerd with Russian choruses. Recording information is vague. It says stereo recording dates are unknown, but it does give locations and dates, all 1961-62. Stereo sound is excellent, but one can only wonder why these were issued in SACD format at premium price.
Several years ago, Praga issued a 4-CD set of Dvorák's first 8 quartets and various other chamber works featuring the Zemlinsky Quartet. Recently the label has started a new series of SACD issues with this fine ensemble. and the latest is this disk of two of the composer's mightiest works, quartets 9 and 13. Splendid performances, but there is no true "surround sound" effect—the players are on the stage in front of us, and we are very close to them.This is a pricey way to acquire this music—there are many other equally find versions easier on the pocketbook.
R.E.B. (August 2012)