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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Film Music
CD 1

Hamlet op. 116a (1964) [38:07]
The Gadfly op. 97a (1955) [41:22]
CD 2-3
New Babylon op. 18 (1929) [84:37]
Five Days op. 111a (1961) [29:57]
CD 4
King Lear op. 58a (1940) [25:57]
King Lear op. 137 (1970) [27:33]
CD 5
Zoya op. 64a (1944) [30:27]
The Fall of Berlin op. 82a (1950) [30:48]
CD 6
Golden Mountains op. 30a (1931) [24:26]
Maxim - film trilogy op. 50a (1931, 1935, 1961) [30:16]
CD 7
Alone (Odna) op. 26 (1930-31) [74:29]
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorkester Berlin/Leonid Grin (Hamlet, Gadfly); James Judd (New Babylon; Five Days); Michail Jurowski (Alone, Maxim, Golden Mountains, Zoya, Fall of Berlin, King Lear)
RIAS Kammerchor Berlin (Zoya, Berlin, Maxim, Alone); Jelena Zaremba (mezzo) (King Lear, Alone); Wladimir Kazatchouk (tenor) (Alone); Stanislaw Suleimanow (bass) (King Lear); Svetlana Katchur (Maxim's Youth);  
rec. Berlin Jesus-Christus-Kirche (CDs1-3, 5, 7), Berlin Deutschland Radio Saal 1 (CD6), Berlin Funkhaus (CD4). 29 November-2 December 1988 CD1, 10;12 October 1988, 7-8 February 1989, 22-23 January 1990 (CD2-3); 10-13 December 1990 (CD4); 4-6 March 1991 (CD5); 28-29 April 1994, 13-14 June 1994 (CD6); 19-22 Sept 1995 (CD7).  
CAPRICCIO 49533 [7 CDs: 79:27 + 65:27 + 48:59 + 53:56 + 61:46 + 56:18 + 74:29]

Shostakovich was mightily productive in the writing of film scores. He began in 1928 with New Babylon and finished in 1970 with King Lear. There are 36 scores and this set treats only nine plus one set of incidental music for the theatre. Some of the scores are presented only in suite form. This remains however the most generous swathe harvested from a fascinating if mixed bag of music.
As with all film music composers who have a foot in the concert world Shostakovich found writing for the Soviet cinema materially rewarding. It also served other purposes, some intended; some perhaps not. The regime, early on, recognised the value of film as a conveyer of values and dogma in sweetened form. All governments have done this either directly or at arms length so we should not be too smug. In writing for the silver screen the composer won and held friends at ‘Court’. In addition his music wheedled its way into the consciousness of the great mass of Soviet people across the Union from Pacific to Arctic to Caspian. People who never darkened the door of a concert hall would unwittingly find themselves hearing a passage which the composer had extracted from or was later to use in a symphony or other work. He had to learn quickly and reliably. Small and large cuts driven by the film team must be borne. Quick readjustments of orchestration must be made. There was no room for precious attitudes to art and creativity. Expediency and deliver-on-time are the order of the day.
Shostakovich’s music as represented here is diverse. Snippets are appropriated from Tchaikovsky and Offenbach. He also recycles his own works and flies kites that are later to achieve the heights in his concert scores. Real Tchaikovsky or Tchaikovsky-pastiche alternates with nightmare dissonances, the occasional Prokofiev-like aside and the grand scorching music of the symphonies.
The Introduction to Hamlet is suitably gloomy. The hammer-blows and louring tension inhabit the same world as Symphonies 10 and 11. Congratulations go to the Berlin trumpets for their idiomatic abrasive shrillness in the Arrival and Scene of the Players resolving into a gentle descending gesture. The Ophelia Scene is a regretful piece - a solo viola sobs while a metallic harpsichord adds a Gothic overlay.
The Gadfly, in the Contredanse consciously adopts archaic dance patterns, sounding remarkably like Prokofiev's Classical at one moment and next like Warlock's Capriol. It then gurgles nostalgically a la Napolitana through the solo clarinet. The Galop casts admiring glances at Offenbach's Gaieté Parisienne but with a suitably bumptious Soviet overlay - a little like some of the over-the-top treatments written by Khachaturian for the supercharged Masquerade Suite. The Scena rumbles in Sibelian discontent, casting the blackest of shadows and leaning on Lemminkainen in Tuonela. The Finale has a military absurdist element, a little like the Napoleonist march from Hary Janos and the marches from Prokofiev's Love of Three Oranges.
New Babylon spans CDs 2 and 3 and some 85 minutes of music. This was Shostakovich's first film - a silent for the Leningrad Sovkino Film Studio directed by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg.  It has been recorded several times and there is another reportedly admirable complete version on Chandos. The movements are longer than the fragments for later films. The whole score here plays in eight substantial movements. The idiom is knockabout, tripping the delicate light fantastic, gawky glinting urbane waltzes, morose ruminations (try the Largo CD2 tr. 3), regal, celebratory, tension buzzingly sustained and brooding. There is no lack of substance in this music.
Five Days - Five Night is from the 1960s. The film is about Soviet troops safeguarding art treasures in Dresden's museums. This score too carries a high angst quotient. A subdued Bachian chorale follows the shots of Dresden in ruins. The film is counted as something of a turkey but the music is a cut above and will satisfy any follower of the DSCH true way.
The fourth disc gives us two perspectives, both by Shostakovich, on another Shakespeare tragedy - this time King Lear. The score for the incidental music to the play is from 1940, pre-dating the Hamlet score by almost a quarter of a century. The music he wrote for the 1970 Lenfilm film came six years after the Hamlet film. The music for the play has plenty of brief fanfares, sardonic songs (Ten songs of the Fool) such as He who decides to the tune Westerners know as Jingle Bells. There is plenty more – including a murderous The Storm is Coming. A ticking Mahlerian march for pizz strings and ruminant bassoon (Mahler Symphony 1) at Scene on the Steppe, a typically horrifying screwed-up tension for Gloster's Blinding.  The Fanfares, of which there are five, feature raucous and shrill brass with magnificent stereo separation.
The 1970 film score for King Lear followed Boris Pasternak's translation rather than the one by Kuzmin, Radlova and Marshak for the 1940 stage production. The in-motion basso of the Beginning of the Catastrophe is redolent of the conspiratorial build-up in Stravinsky's The Firebird coupled with the tension-building in the Eleventh Symphony. The Lamentation is well taken and put across by the Rundfunkchor Berlin. In a grating howl and whirr of drums the finale sends the listener off into the unforgiving night.
The Zoya suite was assembled by Lev Atovmyan and incorporates a mixed choir singing music with a lighter mien than that written for the choir in Lear. Tragedy of a Loss has a wondrous feeling of the romance of the steppe and a long melody more characteristic of Prokofiev than Shostakovich. A suitably braggart Hero’s Victory march follows with cut-in references to the 1812 Overture.
The Fall of Berlin has been recorded complete before now and can be heard on Marco Polo - now Naxos. This eight movement selection was again compiled by Atovmyan as were four other scores in this box. The film was directed by Mikhail Chiaureli and featured the wonderfully plausible Stalin lookalike actor Mikhail Gelovani - one of a number of instances in which the typecast Gelovani played Stalin. The events are as inferred by the title. This is a positive war-film score, brazen at one moment and next sentimental to match the interpolated love interest subplot. Moscow could be as crass as Hollywood in this arena.  Storming Seelow Heights incorporates the Volga Boatmen's Song amid the searing strings and whirring drums. The Finale momentarily recalls the great tragic fanfares in Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony coupled with a grandiloquent overarching theme.
The six movement suite from the Golden Mountains music from 1931 was put together by the composer. Once again those shrill trumpets pay tribute to the echt Soviet brass. There is  a plangent and memorable Waltz with prominently recorded guitar solo. It has a Parisian feel - a lightness of spirit. Then comes a melodramatic organ-intoned Fugue.  A haunted Intermezzo has about it nothing of innocence and a great deal of threat which carries over into the shrieking tragedy of the Finale.
The sixth CD ends with movements from the music for the Maxim trilogy of films (1934-5). The Overture takes us back to the knockabout circus fun of Khachaturyan's Masquerade. Then in the Atovmyan suite we get one of those shoulder-to-shoulder swinging male voice choruses singing of solidarity and battle. It is typical of those also found in Shaporin's The Decembrists - radiating the simple and perhaps enviable confidence of similar perhaps more transcendentally expressed moments in John Ireland's These Things Shall Be.  It's all sung with conviction - no snide smiles or embarrassment. The Waltz is a brazen and Berlioz-like delicate little affair. 
Disc 6 ends with the overture to the 1938 film Vyborg District directed by Kozintsev and Trauberg. It's a shallow victoriously optimistic affair and plays for three minutes shorter than claimed in the tracklist.
Lastly CD7 lays out the 28 cues from the 1931 film Odna (Alone). This is all bright and vividly written and presented - balletic and sentimental. The Final Chorus (tr. 3) is tender and genuinely touching. There is again a Prokofiev absurdist element to the music (tr. 10) yet there is also room for sincere emotions such as the melancholy bassoon solo in Altai (tr. 5). The ticking in The Altai (tr. 7) recalls the impudent little woodwind march that introduces the Second Piano Concerto. The rolling groan of the trombones and bassoon clearly and inventively poke fun at the caricatured Village Soviet Chairman (tr. 13).  It's pretty savage but Shostakovich is slightly kinder in the Village Soviet Chairman drinks tea with his wife although those rolling trombone groans are still there. Snowstorm (tr. 22) is not a storm in a glass dome but a murderous blizzard portrayed in almost mechanistic terms. All in all this is one of the most inventive and provocative scores in what is a fascinating set. It lets us into a Shostakovich genre otherwise little heard.
There is no direct competition for this set. The BMG-RCA series involving Serebrier and the Belgian Radio orchestra is unavailable, was roundly criticised in some quarters and did not cover as many films. The unfolding Chandos series is more comprehensive and is based on the latest scholarship but is at full price.
Boxed sets have so much going for them. There's that sense of completeness and usually the smug satisfaction about having waited for the bargain price to be reached. Just occasionally the wait enforced by the straitened budgets of student and raising family years deny the full price items just long enough for later and perhaps more affluent stages in a career to deliver the wherewithal to buy at bargain price items that initially appeared at premium. Then again the wallet style sets beloved of Brilliant, Capriccio and others save precious space on your crowded shelves.
On the debit side the packaging used is increasingly spartan. Capriccio’s wallet box is skimpy and looks as if it will not survive frequent use. What we have is a dot of glue here and there and a single piece of templated, stamped, folded and flapped origami-like card. These features that do not encourage optimism about the longer term. If ever the box does succumb to wear and tear you are left with the ubiquitous plain white envelopes each with a single transparent side and an unwelcome sticky flap.
The notes in this case are in a single booklet in German and in English. These are well wrought by Elmar Johanson, Birgit Kahle-Hanusa and Thomas Rubenacker - presumably drawn from the original single disc issue documentation. The booklet is a definite plus. You are also treated to a very full track-listing which gives details of the date and first location of the screening for that film.
The recordings were made  between 1988 and 1995 and were originally issued singly. They can still be had in that way but I am not sure why you would want to when you can buy this box for just over the cost of two full price discs.
These scores are a grab-bag of  nuggets and bran, dross and gold, alchemy and quotidian. Accept that from the start and you will be pleased to have such a major slice from a neglected corner of Shostakovich's output.
Rob Barnett


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