There seems to be an inexhaustible supply of hitherto-unknown
music by Shostakovich. Both these scores were written for cartoon films.
The sleeve-note is not exactly clear about the provenance
of The Tale of the Priest as heard here. The original was written
in 1934 and subsequently lost: is this version the one adapted for a
ballet first performed in 1999? Nor are we given a translation of the
narrative spoken in Russian, nor even an outline of the plot. No matter
– if you love Shostakovich’s light music, you’ll enjoy it simply for
its own sake. In its 17 mostly brief movements, it vividly encapsulates
Shostakovich’s amazing versatility of styles and moods (one instance:
no 12 – a duet for saxophone and guitar, interrupted by a typical bassoon/contra-bassoon
grotesquerie and leading to a poignant soprano solo). To judge
by the work’s hilarious closing sections, the cartoon (if it has survived,
its present whereabouts are unknown) must have been tremendous fun.
The Story about a Silly Baby Mouse is an equally
entertaining, shorter piece dating from 1939: like the Pushkin score,
it has a strong vocal element. The film was never released and its script
is lost: musically at any rate, this is of no moment, since Shostakovich
wrote the music before seeing the film. It’s amazing that despite (or
perhaps because of) his political worries, the composer could turn out
such light-hearted (though at times it’s never far away in spirit from
the world of his symphonies) and faultlessly-crafted music seemingly
at the drop of a hat (or, more likely perhaps, a rouble?).
Splendidly performed and recorded, this disc is a must