April 2004 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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The Film Music of Shostakovich Volume 2  
Dimitri Shostakovich

  • The Golden Mountains
  • The Gadfly
  • Volochayev Days
  BBC Philharmonic conducted by Vassily Sinaisky
  Available on Chandos CHAN 10183
Running Time: 66:08
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shostakovich film music 2

See also: The Film Music of Shostakovich Volume 1

The Golden Mountains (1931) was Dimitri Shostakovich's third film score. The story was set in 1914, inspired by the 1905 strike in St Petersburg's Putilov ironworks which broke out a few days before the infamous 1905 Bloody Sunday massacre, an event which would be the subject of Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony (1957). At a more personal level, the story involves Piotr, an impoverished peasant who is set-up by the factory bosses to break the impending strike before he realises he must support his fellow workers. The six-movement suite commences with a heavy fanfare of trumpets grounded by persistent bass drum thuds. In antithesis, there follows a light-hearted waltz with an incongruous-sounding Hawaiian guitar before it develops, first, into fairy-like ballet music complete with celeste, then in a more heavy-handed style, as though the waltz had ventured into an ironworks with the dancers donning clogs, before the dance settles into a more familiar ballroom setting.. The 'Intermezzo' is darkly mysterious, sinister even, with quietly slithering, swirling strings and sour-sounding horns suggesting, perhaps, wolves lurking in a white, moonlit landscape. All hell is let loose in a cruel, heavy peroration at the close of this extraordinary movement. There follows a funeral march that creeps along threateningly, malevolently, before it bursts out in black fury and merges into the crushingly defiant 'Finale'.

The Gadfly (1955) is probably Shostakovich's best-known film score. Here we have an extended 42 minute suite of incidental music from the film. Set in the nineteenth century, it is about the illegitimate son of a cardinal who joins the fight to unite Italy. He is caught but faces the firing squad as a willingly martyr. The Gadfly continues the themes of many earlier films stressing the corrosive power of the Church, the necessity of binding disparate States into a strong whole and the importance to the country of self-sacrifice. Much of the music has an Italianate feel but with an unmistakeable Russian style. The suite is full of melodic, accessible music. It includes, as well as the famous Romance (used in the TV series Reilly, Ace of Spies) and the noble, patriotic Overture, an elegant eighteenth-century-style 'Contradance', the exuberant and merry 'Folk Festival', and the Barrel-organ waltz, full of pavement music nostalgia. Then there is the tender but tragic 'Introduction. Andantino' with its haunting saxophone solo, the wonderfully atmospheric 'Nocturne' with beautifully plaintive cello solo, and the dramatic, romantic 'Scene' which anticipates, a little, Maurice Jarre's Doctor Zhivago (1965). The suite is rounded off with a 'Finale' that opens with a crushing march, swept aside by the triumphant, noble march first heard in the 'Overture'. The 'Romance' itself, played in full, is somewhat restrained in Sinaisky's reading but not ineffective in the context of this extended suite.

Volochayev Days (1937) was set in 1918, when the Japanese launched an attack on Vladivostok. The film portrays the Japanese as deceitful and Shostakovich gives them a crude pentatonic march. The short, three-movement suite on this recording includes an Overture, 'The Japanese Attack' fanfares, snare drum rolls and bugle calls and brass dialogues predominating. The music here is rather sardonically comic Shostakovich clearly having fun at the expense of the Japanese invaders. The second battle scene, 'Fragment' is more conventionally combative with a noble concluding peroration.

Arresting, exciting and accessible, this is first class Shostakovich film music performed with great style and attack. Another triumph in Chandos's ongoing film music series.

Ian Lace

****(*) 41/2

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