This is the third of Decca's forays into the "lighter" Shostakovich. Earlier
albums were: Shostakovich: The Jazz Album (CD 433 702) and Shostakovich:
The Dance Album (CD 452 597). This new collection comprises music
for films dating from 1930 to 1967.
The best known composition, here, is the Romance from The Gadfly (1955),
which was made famous in the TV series, Reilly, Ace of Spies. Chailly
opts for a more understated, but no less beautiful, reading of this captivating
melody than many of the other, more fulsome recorded renditions.
In Alone (1930), a school teacher goes to the remote Altai where she
meets hostility from the locals who leave her to die of frostbite. The original
intention was that she should commit suicide but the directors changed the
end so that the villagers, recognising the benefits of socialism, rescue
her while she then comes to value her work. The suite opens with a rousing
patriotic march followed by a high-spirited Galop recalling silent film comedy
music as does the cue "Altai" with its comically stealthy bassoon treads.
But those treads become sinister in "In Kuzmina's hut" before a plaintive
clarinet lightens the mood and the music returns perky and boisterous. "Barrel
Organ" is a vivid evocation with a lovely wheezy sound produced by the brass.
"School children" is a sad but tender string study while the children's
excitement at the prospect of frolics on the snow and ice is made very clear
in Shostakovich's animated "Storm Scene". The following cue "Storm Breaks"
is a most impressive and exciting picture of howling gales and driving snow
with the composer using the theremin to brilliant effect. "Calm after the
storm" is another wonderful evocation - chill and crystalline.
The Counterplan (1932) was about the thwarting of a band of wreckers'
plans to disrupt a factory. The score is surprisingly warm and human and
not without humour The Presto movement is an exuberant study of the factory
and, presumably, its heroic workers. The Andante contains some of Shostakovich's
most appealingly romantic writing with a meltingly beautiful violin solo
(played by Alexander Kerr) clouded only briefly by the threat from the saboteurs.
"The Song of the Counterplan" - jolly and heroic, by turn - proved to be
one of Shostakovich's most popular compositions. It even became fashionable
in the USA when Harold Burns added lyrics to the tune and called it "The
United Nations". A slightly altered version became the hit song in the MGM
musical, Thousands Cheer.
The Tale of the Silly Little Mouse (1939) is great fun. A baby mouse
just will not go to sleep. An assortment of animals try to lull him off,
after mother mouse has failed. The cat succeeds but greedily runs off with
the poor little mouse. However, all ends happily when he is rescued by the
dog. In this version, Chailly uses an arrangement by Andrew Cornall who
transposes the animal noises from percussion instruments so that mother mouse
becomes a flute, the pig a bassoon, the horse a trombone, the toad a double
bass and the cat a violin (what else?). It goes without saying that Shostakovich
brilliantly captures character, narrative and atmosphere. A minor gem.
Bernard Herrmann made a memorable recording of Shostakovich's music from
the 1964 Russian film of Shakespeare's Hamlet for Decca Phase 4. Chailly's
reading is no less arresting. The heavy emphatic staccato chords, snare drum
rolls, swirling strings and long low cymbal strokes of the "Introduction"
set the mood of dark tragedy. The vivacious and striking "Palace Music" brings
some light relief in perky woodwind figures while "Ball at the castle" has
hurrying, scurrying string figures and proud and pompous brass motifs. "Ball"
has a hard masculine tune that reminds one of the parade ground (like the
more aptly named "Military Music" cue) more than the ballroom. "In the Garden"
might have been more appropriately termed ballroom music for this is much
more relaxed and elegant. But the most impressive and imaginative cue is
"Scene of the poisoning" using wooden block, snare drums and bass drum, pizzicato
strings and harp, grotesque woodwind figures and percussive piano and tambourine
in an explosive mix. This has to be some of the most flesh-creeping music
"The Funeral March" from The Great Citizen (1934) is hugely impressive. Heroic,
compassionate and poignant, this is a powerfully moving elegy. The "Waltz"
from Sofia Perovskaya is, at first a muscular and masculine creation
until the woodwinds allow some feminine grace. From
Pirogov,(1947) a film portrait of a surgeon best known for
his work in the Crimea, comes the fast, quicksilver Scherzo while another
excerpt from the film, "Finale", brings the programme to a thrilling conclusion.
John Riley's excellent and informed notes sets details of these compositions
against the often harrowing politics of the times and the consequent demands
made upon Shostakovich and his fellow artists. Chailly and the Concertgebouw
are absolutely first rate; a brilliant collection.