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Kirill MOLCHANOV (1922-1982)
The dawns here are quiet (1973) [111.16]
Artur Eisen (bass) – Vaskov: Nina Grigorieva (mezzo) – Kirianova: Galina Borisova (mezzo) – Rita: Olga Teryushnova (mezzo) – Zhenya: Galina Kalinina (soprano) – Liza: Klara Kadinskaya (soprano) – Sonya: Lidiya Kovalyova (soprano) – Yolkina: Kristina Leonova (mezzo) – Maria: Eleonora Andreyeva (soprano) – Polina: Vladimir Malchenko (baritone) – Guitarist
Choir and Orchestra of the USSR Bolshoi Theatre/Alexander Lazarev
rec. Moscow, 1976
MELODIYA MEL CD 10 02247 [57.30 + 53.46]

The dawns are quiet is described briefly on Wikipedia as a ‘social realist’ opera. It has hardly ever been staged outside the Soviet Union, and a performance at the New York Met was comprehensively panned in the New York Times by Harold Schönberg. He stated baldly that in his opinion the only reason it had been selected for the 1974 Bolshoi tour was that the composer was director general of the company. Not that a listener could gather even that much basic information from the booklet note of a mere two pages provided with this Melodiya reissue. This fails even to inform us of the date of the work’s composition. The description of the opera itself is confined to a single paragraph, which informs us that the “musical and dramatic background … makes our perception of the characters’ fate so poignant.” Well, we have to take the writer’s word for that, since we are given no information whatsoever about the plot of the opera except that it is based on music Molchanov wrote for a Soviet film about the “tragic demise of young female anti-aircraft gunners.” The original short novel may be, as Boris Mukosey states, famous in Russia, and it is possible to glean some indications of its plot from various internet sites. These cannot serve to link this to the extensive operatic treatment we are given here. So the non-Russian-speaking listener is reduced to letting the music simply wash across his or her ears without any sense of dramatic involvement. In previous reviews of these Melodiya reissues I have complained about the company’s cheese-paring presentation of their archive of valuable recordings. This is quite simply the worst example of the policy that I have encountered, and effectively precludes any recommendation for these CDs for any listener whose command of Russian is non-existent.

I have been able to find a summary of the plot of the filmed version of the novel on the internet, and I repeat that here for the benefit of those who wish to persevere further. “The film is set in Karelia (near Finland) in 1942 during World War II and was filmed near Ruskeala. Senior Sergeant Vaskov is stationed with a group of young female anti-aircraft gunners in a railway station far from the front line. Vaskov is not used to these gunners’ active, playful personalities and therefore clashes with them over daily issues. But Vaskov, being the only man in the village, has to accommodate them in many cases. One day, two German paratroopers appear in the forest nearby. Thinking that they may sabotage military facilities, Vaskov and five of the women attempt to stop the Germans. They pick a perfect defense position, only to find that there are sixteen paratroopers instead of two. Though outgunned and outnumbered, Vaskov decides to hold the Germans for as long as possible. He also sends one of his soldiers out for reinforcements, but while she is trudging through a swamp, she drowns in a quagmire. Vaskov and the remaining four fight the Germans. All four women are killed in action. Vaskov is also seriously wounded and finds the drowned soldier’s clothes near the swamp. The desperate Vaskov, armed only with knife, one-rounded Nagant and deactivated hand-grenade, attacks the cabin where the Germans are resting. The Germans are totally surprised and are either killed or captured. Meanwhile, reinforcements find Vaskov before he passes out. Twenty years after the war ends, Vaskov visits the place again with the adopted son of one of the women.” How much all of this corresponds to the operatic treatment, I am unable to say.

For those who can follow the text, I can only report that the diction appears to be clear and distinct throughout, with the voices forwardly set in a decent if rather dry stereo acoustic; and that the music has a surface attractiveness which may or may not also have dramatic impact. The performance by the composer’s own Bolshoi company is presumably entirely in accordance with his wishes, and the singing is indeed very acceptable. Again Melodiya show their inadequate sense of what is required by their failure to provide even the forenames of the singers, adopting the old Soviet tradition of giving initials only. Some of the singers are well-known; others are not. I have given the full names — I hope correctly — in the header to this review, but I wish the company had saved me the trouble of research. The composer himself plays the piano in a couple of numbers (such as CD 1, track 6) without showing any great sense of bravura or individual style. Unfortunately, without the essential information which is missing from this reissue, one can only say much the same about his music, much of which clearly betrays its origins in the earlier film score including some passages for solo trumpet which show the influence of Morricone’s scores for spaghetti Westerns.

If Melodiya were at some stage to make the missing essential information available on a website, that might at least be something. As it is, this reissue should appeal only to those who understand Russian and can therefore follow the text.

Paul Corfield Godfrey