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.
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.
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.
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
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.