Putting the Stalin in Shostakovich: pro-Soviet cantatas cause outrage

[From The Guardian]

He is one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, whose stirring symphonies and dark and tormented quartets have echoed around the world’s stages and concert halls for over 50 years.

Yet Dmitry Shostakovich had a complex and troubled relationship with the Soviet regime under which he lived most of his life. Despite writing many pieces praising the greatness of Stalin and the Soviet system, it is widely acknowledged the compositions were simply a means to ensure his survival at a time when non-compliance meant a prison sentence or worse.

Since the end of the cold war, most performances of his pro-Soviet compositions and cantatas use modified version of his texts, removing the Stalinist references out of a sensitivity to the brutality of the past and the millions who died.

But now, a world-renowned conductor, who escaped communist Estonia as a child, has embarked on a highly controversial project to perform them as Shostakovich originally wrote them.

Paavo Järvi’s recording of two pro-Soviet cantatas – The Sun Shines Over Our Motherland and The Songs of the Forests, both written in the 1940s in overt praise of Stalin – are released this week ahead of the conductor’s appearance with the Berlin Philharmonic at the weekend.

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