Six Romances on Texts by Japanese Poets, Opus 21 (1928/1931/1932)
*Six Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva, Opus 143a (1973-4)
**Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti, Opus 145a (1974)
Ilya Levinsky, tenor; *Elena Zaremba contralto; **Sergei Leiferkus, baritone
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra cond. Neeme Järvi
Deutsche Grammophon 447085-2 [71:06/DDD]
With this disc, Järvi completes his two-volume edition of Shostakovich's orchestral songs. The first, issued in 1974, consisted of 2 Fables of Krylov, Opus 4 (1922), 3 Romances on Poems by Pushkin, Opus 46a (1937), 6 Romances on Verses by English Poets, Opus 62/140 (1942/71), and From Jewish Folk Poetry, Opus 79a (1948/63). (Mainly devoted to the composer's sardonic side, it might also have contained Boris Tishchenko's orchestration of the 5 Satires of 1960.) Volume 2, by contrast, is almost entirely nocturnal and tragic in tone.
Only one previous recording of the Japanese Romances exists - a version on Melodiya, unissued in the West, made in 1982 by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky with Alexei Maslennikov and the USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra. A work dedicated to Shostakovich's first wife Nina, this six-song cycle was composed fragmentarily over a five-year period during the turbulent era of the Cultural Revolution. Lost love and death are its dominant themes, and the music is suitably sombre. Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde must have been an influence, and, in fact, an accompaniment figure from Der Abschied crops up in the first song. By the final numbers, the style is less lush, more Stravinskyian. Levinsky acquits himself well, without drawing attention to himself, while the orchestral accompaniment and production here, as throughout the disc, are alike exceptionally good. (This is one of Järvi's best Shostakovich recordings.)
Similarly, Elena Zaremba does not quite penetrate the Tsvetayeva songs (one hopes some day for an artist of Brigitte Fassbaender's dramatic tenacity), but nor does she undersell the music. In this great cycle - arguably a finer work than the more celebrated Michelangelo suite - Järvi and his orchestra rise to the occasion with sumptuous and stunning playing. The world-class voice of Sergei Leiferkus receives similarly superb backing in Opus 145a, here delivering the outstanding vocal performance of a highly recommendable recital issue.