Music Webmaster Len Mullenger



Editor's Choice - CD of the Month  - March 1999


Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH The Film Album   Riccardo Chailly conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra   DECCA 460 792-2 [78:02]


Crotchet (UK)

Amazon (USA)

The Counterplan; Alone; The Tale of the Silly little Mouse; Hamlet; Sofia Perovskaya; Pirogov; and The Gadfly.

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 ever written.

"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.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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