SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 11, Op. 103 "The Year 1905."
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orch/Vasily Petrenko, cond.
NAXOS 8.572082 TT: 57:37
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SHOSTAKOVICH: The Girlfriends (complete). Rule, Britannia! Op. 28. Salute to Spain, Op. 44. Symphonic Movement (1945, unfinished).
Celia Sheen, Theremin; Kamil Barczewski, bass; Camerata Silesia; Polish National Radio Symphony Orch/Mark Fitz-Gerald, cond.
NAXOS 8.572138 TT: 72:53
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GLAZUNOV: Masquerade. Two Pieces, Op. 14. Pas de caractère, Op. 68. Romantic Intermezzo, Op. 69.
Gnesin Academy Chorus; Russian Philharmonic Orch/Dmitry Yablonsky, cond.
Naxos 8.570211 TT: 66:57
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FOOTE: Francesca da Rimini, Op. 24. Air and Gavotte from Serenade, Op. 25. Four Character Pieces after the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, Op. 48. Suite in E., Op. 63.
Seattle Symphony Orch/Gerard Schwarz, cond.
NAXOS 8.559365 TT: 59:20
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ARENSKY: Piano Concerto in F minor. Fantasia on Russian Folk Songs, Op. 48. To the Memory of Suvorov. Symphonic Scherzo
Konstantin Scherbakov, piano; Russian Philharmonic Orch/Dimitry Yablonsky, cond.
NAXOS 8.570526 TT: 49:39
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Here are five budget-priced CDs from the remarkable Naxos. Four of them are major issues for collectors. How fortunate collectors have this terrific label exploring repertory usually neglected by other, more expensive, labels—and doing it so well! There are a number of fine recordings of Shostakovich's powerful Symphony No. 11, particularly Leopold Stokowski's 1958 Houston recording that has a magic of its own. Young Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko has been contracted by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic to be their conductor until 2012. He is one of the finest conductors on the scene today and has appeared with most major orchestras. For Naxos he already has recorded a brilliant Tchaikovsky Manfred (REVIEW). This Shostakovich recording is impulsive and probably the fastest ever recorded (57:37). Tim Handley did a superb job as producer/engineer.

Another superb Shostakovich CD offers four premiere recordings featuring an early score by the composer, written for the 1935 film The Girlfriends. This was directed by Lev Arnshtam and is the story of three girls who were nurses in the Civil War. The score calls for a small orchestra and consists of 23 sections, unmistakably Shostakovich, delightful light-hearted music including little and arches and fanfares—and one track (Internationale, tr. 14) is for solo theremin. Mark Fitz-Gerald reconstructed the score from latest sources, and we can assume this is a definitive statement of the music. We also have Rule, Britannia!, 6 brief movements written for Adrian Piotrovsky's play, and Salute to Spain written on command for the Leningrad City Council. The disk ends with a brief (6:42) symphonic movement composed in 1945 originally intended to be the opening movement for Shostkovich's Symphony No. 9 but he wisely abandoned it; he didn't complete it—the final 8 bars were added by conductor Fitz-Gerald. Olga Digonskaya recently discovered it, and the premiere took place in November 2006 with Gennady Rozhdestvensky on the podium during a concert dedicated to the composer's centenary, perhaps to show that even the greatest composers could make mistakes. Performances are excellent as is sonic quality. There are profuse program notes about the music and 39 tracks. This is essential for those who love music of Shostakovich.

Complementing their Glazunov series of all of the symphonies conducted by Alexander Anissimov with the Moscow Symphony, the label has issued this unusual CD of obscure works by the composer, particular incidental music for Masquerade written in 1912-1913 for Lermentov's play about Evgeny Arbenin, a bored aristocrat who goes mad after poisoning his innocent wife. The premiere was in 1917 and apparently after that Masquerade fell into oblivion; the score survives only in manuscript. Producers have done their best to connect the various dances, interludes and pantomimes. A chorus figures prominently throughout, and CD notes provide a synopsis of action, although no texts are provided. For curiosity this issue is welcome although the music is far from the composer's best in theatre music: Raymonda and The Seasons. The other lesser-known works are perfect fillers. Performances do what can be done for the music, and audio is fine.

There was much of musical importance taking place in America well before Copland and Gershwin. Naxos' disk devoted to music of Arthur Foote (1853-1937) proves this (and don't overlook George Whitefield Chadwick, Amy Beach, Edward MacDowell, John Knowles Paine and Horatio Parker). Foote's was highly respected during his time and wrote in the Romantic tradition. The featured work is his symphonic poem Francesca da Rimini, one of the composer's earliest works, written in 1890. It is a rather placid, gentle treatment of the subject, ending softly, far removed from the fiery Tchaikovsky version. Most familiar will be the Suite for Strings. Op. 63 written in 1907-08 and recorded for Victor in 1949 by Serge Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony (once available on a Pearl CD GEMM 9492). Also included are two excerpts from the Serenade, Op. 25, and the Four Character Pieces after the Rubáiyat of Omar Khayyám. Gerard Schwarz leads the Seattle Symphony in performances recorded in 1997-2007 in the Seattle Opera House. Audio is excellent.

Of lesser interest is the disk of Anton Arensky's two works for piano and orchestra, the early Concerto in F minor, Op. 2, and the better-known Fantasia on Russian Folksongs, Op. 48. The concerto doesn't amount to much. It sounds like watered-down Chopin and Liszt. In the third movement Arensky uses 5/4 time, and criticized by Tchaikovsky for doing so, although he used it himself years later in the second movement of his Symphony No 6. Fantasy is of more musical interest, but still of minimal interest. Konstantin Scherbakov does what can be done with Arensky's music, to little avail. The two orchestral works are rousing indeed, the best reason to acquire this disk.

R.E.B. (October 2009)