Suites from A Nameless Star (1978), An Ideal Husband (1980), Turtle Totilla (1962)
This is a very unusual release, containing music from three films virtually unheard of in the West, by a Russian composer whose name will most likely be unfamiliar to the vast majority of film music collectors, Edison Denisov. However, Denisov was as much a 'classical' composer as a film composer, and the release is presented very much as a 'classical' album. Denisov was born in 1929 in Siberia and studied mathematics before turning to composition at the Moscow Conservatory. His avant-garde sensibilities led to clashes with the authorities, and his work being banned from publication and performance. Eventually Sun of the Incas was performed in the West, and marked the beginning of the composer's international reputation. Before he died in 1996, Denisov had composed over 130 works, including two symphonies, two operas and 15 concertos, together with music for more than 60 films.
Less anyone be put off by the words avant-garde in the first paragraph, let me say right away that the music here not only has absolutely nothing to do with any such radicalism, but is also far and away removed from what one would normally expect of 20th century Russian music. For the most part this music is light, playful and romantic, and inhabits an idiom more readily associated with the complex, jaunty music of the Frenchman Jacques Ibert, or music from British features of the Ealing / post-war period. This is much more likely to appeal to lovers of William Alwyn and Malcolm Arnold's film work than those of Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky or Khachaturian's The Battle of Stalingrad.
The three suites on this release were all prepared by Denisov's student, himself now a renowned composer, Yuri Kasparov. A Nameless Star (1978 - TV film) and An Ideal Husband (1980) were two of the composer's own favourites from among his film work. A Nameless Star is described as a 'sad, romantic story', and depicts the brief encounter and unconsummated attraction between a shy young teacher and a spoilt young woman who 'finds herself at the railway station of small town after having an argument with her husband on the train.' The suite is in six parts and covers a variety of moods, but is far more vibrant and upbeat than the story suggests. Lyrical, charming and overflowing with melody, this sounds more like film music from the 1940s or 50's than the 70's, and is the sort of lush, sumptuous score fans of 'classic' or 'Golden Age' film music will adore. The 'Cantabile' has all the yearning grace and passion of an old-style Hollywood love theme, while the 'Grazioso' offers a luxuriously appointed yet witty waltz.
An Ideal Husband is the 1980 Soviet version of Oscar Wilde's play, and one may be startled to find Denisov making great use of Scott Joplin's 'The Entertainer' rag, rather more familiar to English-speaking film-goers as the 'theme' to The Sting (1973). Denisov has plenty more invention in reserve and this 24-minute suite is a joy. Ranging from jazz to a parody of military band music, there is also plenty of romance on offer, and it is an offer no one should refuse.
The disc concludes with a similarly extensive suite from another film by the director of A Nameless Star. Turtle Tortilla (1962) was Victor Georghiev's final degree project, a far-removed adaptation of Pinocchio into a milieu filled with jazz and gangsters. From the score it certainly seems as if the film was a wild and iconoclastic ride, packed with musical jokes, bold rhythmic devices and cartoonish humour, the use of full-scale orchestral jazz perhaps offering a homage to Shostakovich's predilection of this disfavoured 'decadent' Western form.
With characterful, wonderfully enthusiastic performances, especially from the brass and melodic percussion, this is a sunny, optimistic release which will of course give much pleasure to fans of the composer, and will also find favour with those who have enjoyed Ibert and the various entries in the Chandos Movie Music series representing classic British film music. Imagine a Russian Ealing and you won't go far wrong. Can't imagine such a thing? Then you are in for a glorious surprise. This album is a treat from beginning to end.
Gary S. Dalkin
Ian Lace adds:-
I cannot comment in depth about this release because I am reviewing it for another publication, but I support everything Gary says. This is a magical and rewarding compilation and I hope it achieves the large sales it deserves.