September 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Russian Film Music II - I Am Walking in Moscow  
  The Russian Philharmonic conducted by Sergei Skripka
  Bel Air Music BAM 2003   [62: 07]

Russian Film Music II

Music by: Arno Babadjanjan (Documentary), Iisak Dunaevskij (Volga), Jan Frenkel (New Adventures of the Untouchables), Gennady Gladkov (Ordinary Miracle), Vitaly Geviksmann (The World War), Dmitry Kabalesky (Petersburg Nights), Aram Khachaturian (Masquerade), Viktor Lebedev (Go Ahead Marine Guards), Andrey Petrov (I Am Walking in Moscow & Beware of the Car), Sergei Prokofiev (Ivan Grosny & Lieutenant Kije), Dimitri Shostakovich (The Gadfly, Return of Maxim) Valery Zubkov (Gypsy)

Context may not be everything, but sometimes it really helps to know what you are listening to. Russian Film Music II - I Am Walking in Moscow offers new recordings of 19 pieces from Russian films in just over an hour playing time. At the helm is Sergei Skripka, Russia's leading conductor of film music and a man who owns a library of over 9000 film scores. One can assume we are in safe hands, and so it proves to be.

Unfortunately while some of the titles and one or two of the pieces - essentially those by Prokofiev and Shostakovich - may be familiar English speaking listeners are unlikely to ever have seen any of the films represented. Thus a really informative booklet would be invaluable in setting the scene, but all we get is a brief history of film in the former Soviet Union and a little bit of general commentary on Russian film music. The main notes even conclude with an apology that they do not cover the individual films, composers or scores as this would take too much space! That's never stopped the Marco Polo label or Monstrous Movie Music from providing copious notes…

So what we get is a collection of 19 highly melodic pieces, generally either dances or romantic main themes, sequenced in no particular order, and featuring the work of mostly unfamiliar composers from unheard of (to English audiences) films. Judging by the sound of the tunes selected I can only guess that in Russia these are movie themes which require no introduction, that this is the Russian equivalent of those Greatest Movie Themes collections which used to be so popular in the 1970s on LP. Certainly with 19 melodies in an hour nothing outstays its welcome, and some themes are all too brief.

For instance the title tune by Andrey Petrov is a wonderfully carefree and optimistic lilting theme - one might even say "gay" in the sense of the word at the time I Am Walking In Moscow was made in 1963 - offering love, romance and just a hint of sadness all in 98 seconds. The same composer's waltz from Beware of the Car (1966) is almost as beguiling with its lightly bittersweet melody and delicate orchestration and Parisian inflections.

The well known classical composer Aram Khachaturian is represented by two pieces from 1944's Masquerade, a gorgeously dramatic waltz and a tender hearted "romance", though the compilation splits these two into different parts of the disc. There are four pieces by Shostakovich, a dance from The Gadfly (1955) and his famous arrangement of "Tea For Two", as well as the waltz from the suite for jazz orchestra and yet another waltz from The Return of Maxim (1937). Prokofiev is represented by the "romance" from Lieutenant Kije (1934) and a dance from Ivan Grosny (1944).

Given the relatively easy availability of these pieces more interest may be found in some of the less familiar music, such as Jan Frankel's thrillingly melodramatic Taras Bulba-like scherzo music from the New Adventures of the Untouchables (1968). Meanwhile Viktor Lebedev's melancholy "French Theme" from Go Ahead Marine Guards (1987) attractively echoes the work of Francis Lai and Michael Legrand while simultaneously resembling the Westernised sound of commercial Chinese cinema as recorded on Silva Screen's richly tuneful Famous Classical Chinese Film Themes 1 The sensibility of that disc is even more striking is a second cue from the same film, "Don't Look Down Your Nose". Elsewhere an orchestral "popcorn" disco influence even creeps into "Meeting" from 1979's Gypsy by Valery Zubkov, which with its elegant horn melody and then fashionable harpsichord sounds like Nino Rota goes 70's dance!

Predominantly though the feeling is of much more traditional dance music, especially the waltz, for a charmingly light hearted and tuneful anthology which offers a rare insight into the sound of popular Russian cinema. Had there been even more music and some good notes this would have been a really essential additional to any collection, but as it stands is still well worth buying for its infectious feel-good spirit. The Russian Philharmonic play with great enthusiasm and panache, the sound is very good and rest assured, Sergei Skripka knows his film music.

Gary S. Dalkin


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