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The 21-year old was filled with exploratory musical as well as political fire. The three short movements that precede the choral finale of October which sings the praises of 'the Commune and Lenin' (We marched, and begged for work and bread, our hearts gripped in a vice of anguish ...) are challenging; the first a mysterious, fascinating and unsettling woven fabric of scales, the second with a voice later to become more familiar [listen -- track 2, 0:00-1:11] and the third a contrapuntal texture of amazing maturity [listen -- track 3, 1:42-3:10].

And then more than 40 years later, the longer and still scorching settings that make up the 14th Symphony, dedicated to Benjamin Britten (who was only 14 when October was first heard) and given its western première at the 1970 Aldeburgh Festival. It is a cycle of poems chosen to portray the idea of unjust and premature death, continuing that preoccupation from his orchestration of Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death. Scored for soprano and baritone, with strings and judiciously used percussion, there are eleven songs -- six to poems by Apollinaire, two each by Lorca and Rilke, and one by Wilhelm Küchelbecker. Shostakovich embraces serialism as comfortably and accessibly as did Britten, and his voice is as crystal clear, succinct and orderly as ever.

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Copyright © 17 February 2005 Patric Standford, Wakefield UK


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