February 2007

Shostakovich - The Golden Age
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Josť Serebrier cond.
Naxos 8.570217-18
Format: CD

Released: 2006

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

Josť Serebrier has received a good deal of favorable attention for his Glazunov cycle with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for Warner Classics. Now his two-disc coverage of Shostakovich’s music for the ballet The Golden Age, with the same orchestra on Naxos, must be welcomed as a significant addition to this composer’s discography as well as the conductor’s own.

This 1930 ballet had a propagandistic scenario, but what sustained revivals in the age of Glasnost was the 24-year-old Shostakovich’s humorous and satirical take on virtually everything. He even included his sassy orchestration of Vincent Youmans’ "Tea for Two," which got him his first public censure a year or so before the ballet’s premiere. The brief, cartoony Polka is the one part of the work that has become a repertory piece. It figures in a four-part concert suite, but this is only the second recording of the entire ballet score -- and actually the first absolutely complete one, since Gennady Rozhdestvensky’s recording with the Stockholm Philharmonic on Chandos has a few cuts here and there.

Serebrier has caught the essence of every one of the score's individual numbers and, as usual, he has fired up his musicians with the sort of enthusiasm and confidence that allow the listener to focus on the music’s content rather than its challenges, in this case revealing a substance that easily sustains interest throughout the nearly two-and-a-half hours. Naxos has come through with what must be its very finest recording of an orchestra to date, and the documentation, too, is exemplary.

In sum, a happy and refreshing discovery as well as quite a showcase for everyone involved.