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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    



Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
The Fall of Berlin, complete score, Op. 82 (1949). Premiere recording.
The Unforgettable Year 1919 Suite, Op.89a (1951). First complete recording.
Ellena Alekseyeva (Piano)
Moscow Capella and Youth Chorus
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Adriano
recorded at Mosfilm Studios, Moscow, March 2000. DDD
MARCO POLO 8.223897 [75.30]



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From time to time, Shostakovich made his life tolerable by concentrating on less serious activities and for him this meant writing music which would be more acceptable to the authorities. This manifested itself in the production of some 35 film scores as well as other secular works. Given that he wrote 147 numbered works, his work in the film was, at least numerically, a significant part of his output. We may wish to consider this work more seriously than we often do. Shostakovich was writing film scores between 1929 and 1970, i.e. throughout his entire musical development. Unlike some of the more famous Hollywoodiana, Shostakovich’s film scores often display symphonic structure, which makes them more satisfying to listen to than scores by lesser composers.

Marco Polo is in the process of recording much film music, including this first recording of Shostakovich. These are world premieres for The Fall of Berlin, and the premiere complete recording of The Unforgettable Year 1919.

The Marco Polo production is first class – with extensive notes (English only, I am afraid) with a synopsis of each plot and stills from both of the respective films.

The Fall of Berlin was a Mosfilm production of 1949 and 1950, in both colour and black and white, in two parts, directed by Michail Chiaureli and based upon a script by Chiaureli and Pavlenko. The latter had already been involved in Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky. The film belongs to a type in the Stalin period known as "artistic documentaries". These were intended to impress and instruct the masses, and, as was usual, to present an historical truth in an often forged or reinvented form, to serve propaganda purposes. An example of this is in the finale. Here Stalin is seen arriving at Berlin airport to congratulate both his troops and the Allies. He delivers a speech to thousands of people, not from a tribune, but from the ground, and this without even a microphone. Stalin had always refused to travel to Germany and did not do so after the end of the War.

The documentary is about Hitler’s last days, but the film also was in the form of a love story, involving the two principal characters Alyosha and Natasha. One of Alyosha’s friends ended up in the film being part of the raising of the Red Flag above the Reichstag. This was also faked and distributed as propaganda. It was not until recently that it was revealed that the ‘original’ picture had been a filming of a re-enactment to ensure that the lighting was just right. This is the first time the whole of the score has been released. It consists of the Main Title to both Parts 1 and 2, plus 14 other items.

The second film is "The Unforgettable Year 1919": Suite Op 89a, 1951. This film, also directed by Chiaureli, is again a love story wrapped around Stalin’s early activities at the end of the First World War. It won an award at the 1952 Karlsbad Film Festival. The film shows Stalin being very active on the battlefield (far more so than was the truth).Stalin’s purging of the army and the fleet of traitors forms the political basis of the film. This film contains a mini-piano concerto in the style of Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto. Shostakovich’s piece sounds somewhat out of place in the complete score, which is probably why it has been omitted from previous recordings of the film score. It has been recorded separately by Dmitri Alexeev on Classics for Pleasure.

The Moscow Symphony Orchestra sounds as though they are enjoying the music. Adriano conducts it to the manner born. The recording quality is a little bit raucous which I suppose is in general keeping with the content of the music.

A most enjoyable release. I hope it does well, and influences Marco Polo to release further titles in the film music of Shostakovich.

John Phillips

see also review by E D Kennaway and Rob Barnett



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