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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH
The Tale about a Priest and his Labourer Balda, op 36 (tale by Alexander Pushkin)

The Choir and Symphony Orchestra of the St Petersburg Small Opera and Theatre/Valentin Kozhin
The Story about a Silly Baby Mouse, op 56 (tale by Samuel Marshak)

Symphony Orchestra of the Opera Class of the St Petersburg Conservatoire/Boris Tiles
All recorded in the St Petersburg Recording Studio: the dating is unclear.
BOHEME MUSIC CDBMR 012192 [60:22] Midprice


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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 for Shostakovich-lovers.

Adrian Smith


 


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