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Sarah Beth Briggs
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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Hamlet op. 116a (1964) [38:07]
The Gadfly op. 97a (1955) [41:22]
New Babylon op. 18 (1929) [84:37]
Five Days op. 111a (1961) [29:57]
King Lear op. 58a (1940) [25:57]
King Lear op. 137 (1970) [27:33]
Zoya op. 64a (1944) [30:27]
The Fall of Berlin op. 82a (1950) [30:48]
Golden Mountains op. 30a (1931) [24:26]
Maxim - film trilogy op. 50a (1931, 1935, 1961) [30:16]
Alone (Odna) op. 26 (1930-31) [74:29]
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).
49533 [7 CDs: 79:27 + 65:27 + 48:59 + 53:56
+ 61:46 + 56:18 + 74:29]
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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