Sullen Shostakovich

Shostakovich completed the Suite of Verses by Michelangelo in 1974, only a year before his death. The work — which features a collection of verses and sonnets from the famed Italian sculptor — was initially a piano score but blossomed into an orchestral score a few months later.

For this rendition, recorded live at the Glinka Museum in Moscow, the orchestration is replaced by a transcription for organ and voice. While that might be an intriguing idea, the actual recording of the works leaves much to be desired. Though previous orchestral renditions have proven powerful and edgy, those qualities do not come through in this recording.

This lack of zeal is especially noticeable in the first selection, "Truth" (RealAudio excerpt). The opening bars should announce from the mountaintops the finality of truth itself but instead come across as insufficiently pithy. In addition, these first few bars reveal a disturbing lack of rhythmic clarity from organist Herveè Deèsarbre.

Bass Alexandre Naoumenko skillfully handles the composer's tricky leaps and, though he falters on a few high notes, his lower ranges are full and robust. Other selections, such as "Anger" (RealAudio excerpt), move closer to the vigor of an orchestral rendition, due in part to Shostakovich's cantankerous cluster chords, which brilliantly portray the clanging of a hammer.

"Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth of Mzensk" (RealAudio excerpt) is the first in a trio of solo organ works featured on the album. The collection ends with Boris Tichtchenko's intriguing "Twelve Portraits for Organ," which is based on themes by Shostakovich.