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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
The Bolt: Suite from the Ballet Op.27a (1933)
Suite No. 1 for Stage Variety Orchestra
Jazz Suite No. 1 (1934)
Tahiti Trot Op. 16 (1928)

Russian State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dmitri Yablonsky
Moscow State Broadcasting and Recording House, Grand Studio 5 October 2001 DDD Stereo
NAXOS CD 8.555949 [62:14] Superbudget

 

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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 Stalinís jackboot, which takes the gilt off the gingerbread a bit. Buy it and be surprised.

Dave Billinge


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