Shostakovich’s music for film and stage reveals the lighter
side of this otherwise lugubrious composer. Certainly, in the
1930s – in the years leading up to the denunciation of Lady
Macbeth of Mtsensk at least – Shostakovich bequeathed some
gems to Soviet cinema. Apart from the pieces recorded here,
his scores include Alone (1931), The Girlfriends
(1934-1935) and Volochayev days (1936-1937). Delos’s
multi-volume survey dates to the 1990s, but since then Naxos
have issued a fine CD of Alone, much praised by BBr –
– and The Girlfriends, warmly welcomed by WK (review).
As for Golden mountains and Volochayev days, they’ve
both been recorded by Vassily Sinaisky and the BBC Philharmonic
CHAN 10183. Most exciting, perhaps, is the eagerly awaited
Naxos disc of New Babylon (1929), even though we already
have Frank Strobel’s fine version for Hänssler.
What’s most gratifying about these new releases is that they’re
quality performances that really do justice to Shostakovich’s
uneven – but entertaining – music for the movies. Seconds into
Walter Mnatsakanov’s Golden mountains – with the State
Cinematograph Orchestra, not the Byelorussian one as stated
on the box – it’s clear we’re in for an exhilarating, if bumpy,
ride. The thumping, cymbal-shredding introduction to this tale
of peasant Pyotr who seeks his fortune in the big city, seems
to catch the band on the hop, the music dispatched with a raucous
energy associated with Soviet-era performances. At times even
the recording harks back to an earlier age, although the over-exuberant
presentation is just right for this material.
There’s much to celebrate here, from the impish little waltz
to the big-boned, Bachian fugue, the latter played with tongue
wedged firmly in cheek. The organ is somewhat upfront, but the
Delos recording is generally fine, offering wide dynamics and
a decent soundstage. There’s a real sense of being seated in
a darkened auditorium, enchanted, this solo reminiscent of von
Stroheim’s Gothic musings in Sunset Boulevard or, perhaps,
the accompaniment to Lugosi’s Murders in the Rue Morgue.
That said, the outrageous orchestral onslaught that follows
– no-one does bombast better – had me laughing out loud. But
then there’s the louring intermezzo and funeral march, both
typical of Shostakovich’s work in the genre – glimpses of symphonic
mastery side-swiped by music of raw populism and punch. And
if it’s full-on you’re after, just listen to that riotous finale.
In The tale of the priest and his servant Balda the Byelorussian
band seems more refined – if one can use that word in this context
– but it’s quite close as well. The overture has all the usual
quirks, with prominent timps, cheeky brass and low, rasping
bass. The cymbals are especially well caught in the strange
Nocturnal procession, as are the swooning trombones in Bazaar.
Subtle this isn’t, these workmanlike tunes laced with subversive
wit and a real sense of mischief. Just sample the veer and verve
of Balda’s dialogue, or that oddly undreamlike Dream. Not what
one might expect, perhaps, but great fun nonetheless.
A comedy, The adventures of Korzinkina embraces those
same dichotomies, from a ‘straight’ overture and perky march
to a rollicking chase worthy of Mack Sennett; the two pianos
in the latter are played – and recorded – with real gusto. It’s
marvellous stuff and, as the liner-notes suggest, at times it
echoes the First Piano Concerto (1933). Indeed, one senses in
this score a new sophistication, a extra pliancy of rhythm and
range, notably in the Restaurant music. The choral finale catches
one off-guard too, but then, like Monty Python’s Inquisitors,
one of Shostakovich’s chief weapons is that of surprise.
Mouse, Pig, Toad, Horse and Cat are characters beautifully voiced
by an all-Russian cast in this version of the animation classic
Glupiy mishonok (The silly little mouse). By all accounts
the composer enjoyed working on this project, and it really
shows in the sustained charm and inspiration of the music. I
particularly liked the balance between orchestra and voices,
the latter given a larger-than-life presence that’s very cinematic.
Riccardo Chailly has recorded a version for orchestra alone
but this Delos one is altogether more engaging. Also, there’s
a strength of narrative, and an ease of invention, that reminds
me of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges and Janáček’s
Cunning little vixen. This is Shostakovich at his most
disarming and delightful.
Nay-sayers will insist these scores underline the inherent vulgarity
of this composer’s œuvre – their loss. DSCH fans will
have this disc on their shelves already; newbies will find much
to enjoy here too.
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Music From the Films – Volume 5
Golden mountains – Suite, Op. 30a (1931)* [21:59]
Fugue: Largo - Allegro
Funeral march: Largo
The tale of the priest and his servant Balda - Suite,
Op. 36a (1935) [14:49]
The adventures of Korzinkina, Op. 59 (1940) [10:13]
The silly little mouse, Op. 56 (1939) [15:22]