Shostakovich enthusiasts are going to want this because
it fills gaps in their collections which otherwise consist of his symphonies,
quartets and concerti. They are in for a shock. Shostakovich with his
hair down is a sight to hear, if I may mix my metaphors.
If I had not had the CD sleeve in front of me I would
never have guessed the composer responsible for the so called "Jazz
Suite No.2". In some senses DS is not responsible for it as given here
because the score of the actual Second Jazz Suite, written for Victor
Knushevitsky and his State Orchestra for Jazz in 1938, was lost during
the Great Patriotic War. Only in 2000 did our own Gerard McBurney resurrect
it, and what is on this CD is not it! All this is clarified to a point
in the interesting sleeve note by Richard Whitehouse. But I wish Naxos
had labelled the piece as do publishers Schirmer as the Suite No.1
for Variety Stage Orchestra (no date but it is some time in the
early 1930s) which the composer compiled from his catchiest film-score
tunes. I wonder if he should have bothered because the interest of this
utterly faceless, though very tuneful, nonsense, lies purely in the
fact that Shostakovich wrote it. One trusts he was well paid by the
dance bands and indeed Red Army orchestras who apparently played it
at popular entertainments throughout the Soviet Union.
The first Jazz Suite is no worse, nor any better. Of
the trio of music hall pieces only the Tahiti Trot, Vincent Youmans'
famous tune Tea for Two from No No Nanette orchestrated
by Shostakovich (as a bet, in 40 minutes) shows signs of the mordant
wit we know from this master. It is all very well played by the Russian
State SO and recorded with great presence by a Russian team who clearly
know their studio very well and succeed in making the lightest music
sound close and clean.
They also succeed in making the main piece, the only
music I could bring myself to take seriously, sound big and exciting.
This is the original suite of eight movements that Shostakovich extracted
in 1933 from his big three act ballet of 1930, The Bolt. The
Bolt is a story of industrial espionage in which party officials
unmask the perpetrator, who has dropped the eponymous bolt in a machine
and stopped production. The Red Guard ensure that everyone celebrates
his unmasking. DS did not much like the plot and the ballet was rapidly
withdrawn. Oddly however the music is really good in a raucous sort
of way and constitutes the only musical reason to buy this CD.
So did your mealy-mouthed reviewer like the disc? Yes
indeed, it is easy, tuneful, well played and very well recorded. It
has good notes and an appropriately entertaining cover picture, though
its subject, Meyerhold, met a very nasty end under Stalin’s jackboot,
which takes the gilt off the gingerbread a bit. Buy it and be surprised.