May 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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The Tale about a Priest and his Labourer Balda (opus 36) & The Story about a Silly Baby Mouse (opus 56)  
  The Symphony Orchestra of the Opera Class of the St. Petersburg Conservatoire conducted by Boris Tiles
  MUSIC BOHEME CDBMR 012192   [Total: 58:57 * The Tale about a Priest and his Labourer Balda: 44:43 * The Story about a Silly Baby Mouse: 14:44]


This disc features reissues of early 1980's recordings of two little known works Dimitri Shostakovich. The Tale about a Priest and his Labourer Balda (1934) and The Story about a Silly Baby Mouse (1939) are both adapted from Shostakovich's scores for now presumably lost Soviet animated films, productions so obscure in the West that they do not even feature on the massive Internet Movie Database. As such one must be guided by the booklet notes by Classical Music on the Web's own Rob Barnett. Unfortunately there is a little confusion, as we are told that the original score was lost, the music " recovered from other sources" in 1980 and revised in the form of a comic opera by S. Khentova before being premièred in 1967. There has also been a six movement suite prepared by Rozhdestvensky, though the version here is the comic opera, which having being premièred in 1967 was then first performed in 1980. Just to complicate matters a ballet version was well received in 1999. This though is definitely the comic opera, committed to tape in 1981.

The work runs just under three-quarters of an hour in this performance, and is divided into an overture and two acts spanning some 17 separate tracks. Adapted from a story by Pushkin, the cast includes the hero, Balda, the bass Vladimir Pankratov, the Priest, bass Sergei Safenin, his daughter, the soprano Elena Ustinova, a bell ringer and a family of demons as well as a narrator and balalaika player. The music is typically colourful, sometimes acerbic, largely playful, Shostakovich. The scoring ranges from burlesque to melodrama, one suspects always with tongue firmly in cheek. And here is where this release shoots itself firmly in the foot, for we are provided with neither libretto nor even synopsis. Not speaking so much as a word of Russian I have no clue as to what may be going on, and as such maintaining interest is really quite difficult. The music by itself does not hold the interest, subsidiary as it is to the vibrant and enthusiastic performances and intrusions of the narrator.

Concluding the disc, The Story about a Silly Baby Mouse is a single movement work playing for 14 minutes. Recorded in 1982 with an entirely different cast to the preceding work, this is obviously a children's story, though probably the tale of a mouse, a vindictive cat and a faithful dog had some political import. There are also parts for a duck, toad, horse and pig, and it all sounds as if it might be a lot of fun. It is certainly performed with gusto.

The sound is good throughout, with very forward placement of the singers and some bold use of a wide stereo soundstage. Credit goes to Boheme for making this potentially fascinating material available, but brickbats for failing to provide the essential synopsis and librettos. As such this can really only be recommended for Shostakovich completists.

Gary S Dalkin


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