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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Film Music: Volume 3

Hamlet – suite (1964) [28:47]
The Unforgettable Year 1919 (1951) [7:29]
Five Days and Five Nights – suite (1960) [35:29]
The Young Guard – suite (1947-8) [10:05]
Martin Roscoe (piano)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Vassily Sinaisky
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 1, 12 October 2004.
CHANDOS CHAN10361 [79:47]
 


The third volume of Chandos’s Shostakovich film music kicks off with one of the composer’s most celebrated scores: Hamlet. This music has been recorded a number of times notably, in 1974, by that other master composer of film music, Bernard Herrmann on Decca 455 156-2 ‘Music from the Great Shakespearean Films.’ Herrmann’s Hamlet Suite has six movements, lasting 21:31: Introduction; ‘Ball at the Palace’; ‘The Ghost’; ‘Scene of the Poisoning’; ‘The Arrival and Scene of the Players’; and ‘The Duel and Death of Hamlet’. Sinaisky’s Suite has all of these plus a seventh, ‘Ophelia’. This is a dark-hued lament featuring eerie harpsichord and string glissandi suggesting the onset of madness as well as tolling bells mourning the poor demented girl’s death. Sinaisky benefits from modern sound and he delivers a powerful - almost overpowering, especially in the opening tuttis of the Ghost scene - stinging reading. Ultimately however I prefer Herrmann’s approach, in pretty good phase4stereo sound. Here is a reading from a composer/conductor who is a master of atmosphere and orchestral effects. His Ball scene and Arrival of the Players have acid, sardonic wit and his Ghost scene, more measured at 5:16 rather than Sinaisky’s at 4:38, is that much creepier, more horrific; you can visualise moonlit swirling leaves and a spectre that terrifies.
 
John Riley, the author of the programme notes for this album describes Shostakovich’s tribulations in working with the Mikhail Chiaureli, the director of The Unforgettable Year 1919. He was not a director praised by the composer for his musicality; neither the first, nor the last, alas! Shostakovich’s music was used most insensitively. This new album has the seven-minute ‘The Assault on Krasnaya Gorka’ – a battle scene for which, quite strangely, the composer wrote a Rachmaninovian piano concerto. Martin Roscoe joins the BBC Philharmonic in a rousing performance of this brilliant pastiche which will appeal to all who love the ‘heart-on-sleeve’ concertos of Rachmaninov.
 
Five Days and Nights concerned the fate of art treasures during World War II. The Nazis protected the contents of a Dresden art gallery in underground chambers. The Soviets discovered them, transported them to Russia for restoration and eventually they were returned to East Germany in 1955. Shostakovich’s five-movement suite has a Brahmsian consolatory feel about it, contrasted with more brutal war-like material. This Brahmsian touch is very apparent in the outer parts of the ‘Dresden in Ruins’ movement, before the central section that underscores a slow panning shot of the city. This fetaures eerily quivering strings and a trumpet in ‘Last Post’ mode suggesting the devastation after the allied bombings. ‘Liberated Dresden’ is distinguished by sensitive usage of the Dies irae, its negativity contrasting movingly with allusions to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Shostakovich admirers will recognise quotes from the composer’s Eighth String Quartet, and his Eleventh and Twelfth Symphonies.
 
The Young Guard was composed around the time Shostakovich was denounced at the infamous 1948 Composers’ Union conference when many of his works stood condemned as ‘Formalist’ and ‘anti-people’. Yet The Young Guard score was praised and it was suggested that Shostakovich should write more of this sort of music. This album concludes with a 10-minute, three-movement suite from this film score. ‘By the River’ begins with a gentle pastoral evocation, a pleasant relief from the harsh brutality of crushing timpani and snarling brass elsewhere in the suite and throughout much of the album. Disturbing this pastoral calm there is a threat from deep drum thuds and restless strings. ‘Turbulent Night’ is all threat from rolling timps and sinister stealth from pizzicato strings until at about 1:06 there arises for a little while before it is crushed, a theme that Elgar would have marked nobilmente. Nobility returns to triumphantly dominate ‘Song of the Young Guardsman’.
 
Dynamic performances of mostly politically forceful, but sometimes romantic film music. Admirers of the composer’s Hamlet score should also consider Bernard Herrmann’s vintage 1974 recording.
 
Ian Lace
 

 



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