Dmitri Shostakovich was the chronicler, the poet in music, of Soviet Russia: from its bright and optimistic inception as enshrined in his First Symphony, through the gradual alienation experienced by genuinely creative figures within Stalin's regime, to which the suppressed Fourth Symphony and opera Lady Macbeth bear powerful witness, to the pressure to conform and supply music that buttressed the regime's ideals, such as patriotic symphonies and sturdy choral works; finally, to a late, disenchanted rapprochement between individual and state that allowed the elderly composer to retreat from the provision of public work and increasingly to focus his undimmed creative powers on a series of string quartets and song cycles which reinforce, through often cynical and sarcastic expression, the need for a man to retain his own identity and self-respect in the face of overwhelming opposition.
All these facets of the man and his music --rarely has there been a composer in whom the two were so indivisible -- are evident from this remarkable collection, the most complete available. All the symphonies and string quartets are here, of course, and the symphonies in particular enjoy the advocacy of special eloquence granted by the leadership of Rudolf Barshai, one of Shostakovich's most trusted intimates and performers. So too, however, are there rarities galore: English folksong settings; unpublished operas; occasional festivities for orchestra; forgotten movie soundtracks.
The majority of performers and performances are Russian in origin, including the famous unparalleled recording of Lady Macbeth sung by Galina Vishnevskaya and conducted by her husband, Mstislav Rostropovich; who naturally also makes his own contribution as a cellist with the First Cello Concerto. David Oistrakh is another dedicatee who brings unique authority to the concertos (violin, in this case). There's even a cameo from Shostakovich himself, who was a superb pianist, as can be heard from this disc of concertos and solo works.
- Features a number of historical recordings, with performances by WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, Rudolf Barshai, Cristina Ortiz, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Berglund, Galina Vishnevskaya, Mstislav Rostropovich, Kirill Kondrashin and Evgeny Mravinsky.and Dmitri Shostakovich himself.
- Sung texts of the complete songs included