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Lancette Arts Journal, February 2012

Serebrier is a master at bringing difficult works alive.

In 2006 Dmitry Shostakovich would have been 100 years old. One would have thought that this would have brought about an outpouring of his music on the radio and in the print media. Unfortunately, a more popular composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, celebrated his 250th birthday in the same year, and so Mr. Shostakovich was pushed pretty well aside. Only if one looked or listened hard, did one read about him or come to hear his music in a celebratory format.

Fortunately, I am able to review here a fine recording of his ballet, The Golden Age, Op. 22 by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra on the Naxos label. The conductor is José Serebrier, who has won numerous awards as composer and also a conductor in his long career. Among his greatest achievements is an outstanding recording of Charles Ives’ Fourth Symphony, a symphony that even the great Leopold Stokowski could only handle with two assistant conductors. Serebrier’s recordings of the Mendelssohn symphonies with the Scottish National Orchestra won him the Music Retailers Association Award for best orchestral recording of the year in 1991. He has many Grammy nominations to his name and a few wins as well.

On this 2-CD set of Shostakovich’s ballet, Serebrier proves that he has a perfect understanding of the composer’s intend. It is a powerful presentation by a well-coördinated orchestra that responds well to the dramatic concept of the ballet music. At the same time, it frees the music from the confines of the Soviet-style story, which to us would not be very appealing; it lets the music live on its own. To listen to this recording, no visuals are required. One can sense the mood of the work, which is sometimes satirical, mocking, and at the same time we sense the composer’s appreciation of newly discovered music while living outside the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Of course, he returned, and premiered the work in 1930 at the State Academy Theater in Leningrad.

Two events contributed to the ballet’s short run of just 10 performances. Shostakovich and the choreographer, Vasily Vainonen, were unable to agree on the correlation between music and dance. The resulting dissonance between music and dance allowed the anti-Shostakovich forces in the Soviet Union to shoot the work down, led with blazing guns by the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians.

The ballet is imbued with jazz and other popular music from the ‘decadent’ West, there is waltz music, a tango, foxtrot and Charleston that evoke the supposed ‘subversion’ of the proletariat by such music. It is a tongue-in-cheek work. While its original theme of a Soviet soccer team playing in the West during an industrial exhibition, and the perils the team encounters there, should have pleased the reactionary forces at home, Shostakovich obviously wasn’t quite able to fool the ‘Proletarian Musicians Association’. By the way, there is a wonderful variation of ‘Tea for Two’ that serves as a well-placed and fetching entr’ acte at the beginning of Act III.

It is too bad that Shostakovich’s ballets—he has written three in all—are the least known of his music. So it is wonderful to be able to listen to a recording of the original score as the composer wrote The Golden Age. The expressive music makes great listening. True, in this Naxos recording there are moments when one gets a feeling that the fast pace will unravel the music, but not in Serebier’s hands. He is a master at bringing difficult work alive. Nothing is compromised. and the music and the playing remain focused at all times. © 2012 Lancette Arts Journal



Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, September 2010

The performance is quite simply excellent and the audio quality is top tier; relatively full and rich with no audible distortions to be exaggerated by less than the better playback players and preamplifiers. That means simply clean, clear and non fatiguing. This is definitely a recommended recording totaling well over two hours. For audiophiles there are a fair number of powerful drum thwacks to exercise their woofers.



Haller
American Record Guide, April 2007

"Unlike the Fourth Symphony and the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District-now performed with some frequency both in Russia and elsewhere-the ballets of Dmitri Shostakovich seem to have scarcely survived the stifling aura of severe criticism or even outright censorship that attended their baptism by writes Manashir Yakubov, curator of the Shostakovich archives, "As if overshadowed much greater scandals, they have remain forgotten and unknown for over half a century; they apparently do not exist." The first these, Zolotoy Vek (The Golden Age), survives for all practical purposes as a single ubiquitous excerpt, the familiar Polka, or at best a suite lasting no more than 20 minutes. From his second ballet, The Bolt, there's another suite roughly half an hour long; while his third final ballet, The Limpid Brook, we're likely to encounter only as individual dances pam out to the various Ballet Suites. We may be grateful that Gennady Rozhdestvensky recorded all three with the Stockholm Philharmonic (Golden Age, JulylAug 1994; The Sept/Oct 1995; Limpid Brook, Nov/Dee 19 and doubly fortunate to have a new recording of The Golden Age from Maestro Serebrier his excellent Scottish forces.

"The immediate appeal of the Naxos set besides the obvious cost advantage is that it offers all of the repeats, including some omitted by Rozhdestvensky (he also cuts short what is here described as the "insinuating" 'Fascist Dance', omitting the ensuing Scene) so that listeners might "assess the ballet in all its exhilarating if reckless audacity".Oonce the Soviet football team arrives on the scene Serebrier picks up the pace admirably, and he gives Rozhdestvensky a run for his money: there's little point in comparing them dance by dance. "

"Both recordings live up to expectations well enough, including humorous touches along the way from the flexatone, banjo, and even a referee's whistle. Unless you're a fanatic about it, the low cost of the Naxos should be more than enough incentive to go with Serebrier."



Stephen Hall
MusicWeb International, March 2007

This Naxos double has received a superb review from Anne Ozorio so mine will have a slightly different spin – in the cricket sense.

For starters, José Serebrier is a top rate conductor/composer with a sense of choice and judgement second to none. He gets the very best from a youthful RSNO without a fluff.

I usually criticise engineers but Phil Rowlands and producer Tim Oldham deserve as much praise as the conductor and orchestra. The latter are on belting form in the superb acoustics of the Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow with an almost Russian reverb time which Serebrier uses well.

Anyone who appreciates what orchestral sound can offer at its best through even moderate hi-fi or mid-range headphones can expect a treat. Through up-market gear and/or top-end ‘cans’ I recommend this release to show what a full orchestra can do. Music teachers should rush out and buy this Naxos double to show students how orchestras are used and where instruments are placed, especially as the short movements allow plenty of picking and choosing.

The main drawback of full ballet music issues (even Tchaikovsky’s) is that some of it simply supports the action and can be less than engaging when standing alone. Parts of ‘The Age of Gold’ Op.22 certainly have this problem.

The 24 year-old Shostakovich was in good company as the entire Stravinsky ‘Firebird’ and Bartók’s ‘Miraculous Mandarin’ can cause a few yawns. That is why the composers made suites of the musically most interesting aspects. Ravel and Prokofiev did the same but young Dmitri S - advised by his mentor Prokofiev - published a suite of items 1, 2, 9, 11 and 30 ahead of the premiere in 1930. Just to be correct track 30 should be 31 in the otherwise excellent notes mentioned immediately below.

There were peculiarly Soviet reasons for this. The superb CD notes by Richard Whitehouse hint at this but do not offer a full explanation. Experimental music was just about tolerated in the early 1920s but Prokofiev had been ‘told off’ a few times for being what the Soviets called ‘formalist’. Then again, he was too famous to be shot down - and held dual nationality anyway. His protégé Shostakovich had no such protection and when Lenin died in 1924 Stalin took control. The concept of ‘Socialist Realism’ spread from the Kremlin and the influence Andrei Zhdanov began, even though he was not made Minister of Culture until 1934 after a few assassinations and purges of intellectuals.

Making a five movement suite was a clever way of ensuring that a modest edition would get outside the USSR – but listening to this amazing full score under Serebrier I wonder why Shostakovich stuck at five when so much else is both gorgeous and important! Okay he was young but a second suite could have been made after the Stalin era. But then there was the irony of Stalin and Prokofiev dying on the same day in 1953.

Ballet ‘plots’ are often even more far-fetched than opera ones. This one by Alexander Ivanovsky of film fame in the 1920s is so peculiar and particular to its time that I shall not get bogged down in its speciality. It’s a bit like watching a bunch of entomologists discussing the mating habits of a beetle only found on an acre of land in Upper Volta. Let us get down to the music.

As Anne Ozorio covers the work so well as a free-standing opus I recommend this marvellous Serebrier achievement in relation to what followed in the career of DSCH and especially in the symphonies.

I could list every dot ’n’ jot but this would make no sense unless listeners have experience of the symphonies in some detail or at least are becoming acquainted with them. There are however some aspects of ‘The Age of Gold’ which simply cannot be overlooked in this context. If the symphonies are the lock then this Op.22 is at the very least a rough-hewn key.

On CD1, Track 4 has percussion ‘clacks’ used by Shostakovich in the 4th, 14th and 15th symphonies and that skeletal device was clearly in the young composer’s subconscious.

Track 13 ‘Diva and the Fascist’ has deep unease which looks forward to the 4th symphony’s best cross-rhythmic sections in four separate places. We just know that something is wrong and sinister when Shostakovich uses this musical language. Serebrier’s supreme interpretation of the famous ‘Dance of the Diva’ (CD 1 Track 9) is a perfect case of compare and contrast.

By the way, the lovely Adagio for soprano saxophone and an economical orchestra has been rendered by many in the Suite version. Serebrier simply IS supreme in this prefiguring of the more gorgeous tunes Shostakovich used in the 5th, 6th, 7th and 10th symphonies in orchestral garb. The ‘Suicide’ movement of the 14th for soprano and chamber orchestra also uses very similar phrases. Serebrier is not a musician for ‘bleeding chunks’ but sees things as a whole. That’s why he makes this longest movement of Op.22 its understated glory.

CD 1 Track 13 has touches of the 4th symphony as well as the piano concertos, 17 has themes and harmonies we find in the 8th and Track 19 uses ‘chaotic’ phrases found in the 2nd and 3rd symphonies. Thus the composer was trying out ideas he could use later - without saxophones - in times of less freedom as Stalin tightened his grip. Stalin considered saxophones decadent.

Track 19 is brief but we learn so much from it about what came later. It is as if the composer was confused and excited simultaneously. There are even shades of a canonic ‘escape route’ (10th symphony) as if the way out of emotional turmoil is logic. This is human nature and Shostakovich appreciated it as a very young man.

CD 2 Track 12 introduces deep menace after a fair bit of orchestral merriment - yet always with a great big question mark shown by the use of clever minor inversions and oppositions to even simple themes. We never quite know if the pure soviets or the fascist capitalists are ‘right’ in what Shostakovich makes of Ivanovsky’s weird plot. That said, the music from Track 12 to the end is full of cheek but also reflects the serious side of the composer. Practically it serves to announce his lifelong musical menu.

The very strange opening of Track 13 only makes true sense if one knows the later music. Then Shostakovich follows up - in this second longest movement - with very large hints towards the seminal 4th symphony and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk – both of which were banned by Stalin. Serebrier is the musician to present this highly compressed statement in a clear way, especially the composer’s return to the quiet opening before a cheeky fanfare leading to track 14.

It’s all there in just over six minutes: the Shostakovich trademark of clever percussion with busy strings and a sub-text of woodwind and brass. He also uses, for the second time in this work, an exact quotation of the woodwind theme from Stravinsky’s ‘Petrushka’ denoting the hero puppet’s subversive and indestructible guile. This casts doubt on the last movement, ‘Dance of Solidarity’ which stays in what to my ears is a rather hollow major key.

Shostakovich loved his country and eschewed all chances to leave. On the other hand he disliked the leadership so occasionally was forced to compromise his art, yet never without sly digs lost on dim politicians. The symphonies demonstrate this fully but, I admit, this full version of ‘The Age of Gold’ surprised me in just how much the composer packed into a ballet score serving a pretty daft plot about ideology.

Serebrier’s genius as a conductor/composer is to know his subject thoroughly so if this masterly recording doesn’t attract a stack of prizes I would be surprised.

This Naxos double has no faults whatever – and I usually find something to whinge about. Not this time because this recording shows understanding of a great compo



David Gutman
Gramophone, February 2007

We don't think of Shostakovich as a ballet composer yet he wrote three between 1929 and 1935. Neglect is not wholly unconnected to their musical shortcomings but, as often with Russian-Soviet cultural production, all is not what it seems. For the early Soviets, antic modernism was not intrinsically suspect, as long as it paid lip-service to anti-Western sentiment. Today it's the agitprop, party-line scenario of The Golden Age that's more likely to derail revivification. A soviet football team is visiting a Western city (Berlin?) where temptations fiscal, political and sexual are provided by an assortment of politically incorrect Aunt Sallys. The visitors are subjected to matchrigging and police harassment until, finally, the team captain is freed from unjust imprisonment through the solidarity of the local working class. The tangle of incidents allowed Shotakovich to deploy many disparate idioms, the most famous novelty being the Polka (disc 2, tr 8). Other episodes anticipate the harsher word of Lady Macbeth and the Fourth Symphony.

Richard Whitehouse's annotations attempt a performance history of material which has since appeared in numerous guises. One entr'acte is that cheeky, pre-existing arrangement of Vincent Youmans's Tea for Two, aka Tahiti Trot (disc 2, tr 5). In a piece uneven by design, not everything bears close listening. An exception is the extended Adagio or Dance of the Diva (disc 1, tr 9), evoking the Josephine Bakerish artiste who attempts to seduce our hero. Here things begin evocatively on soprano sax but the weirdly miked solo violin sounds out of sorts in a reverberant acoustic that muddles detail at high decibels. That said, Serebrier's generally well pointed account is bettervalue than its repeat-shy rival under Rozhdestvensky.



Classical_Lost_
Classical Lost and Found, February 2007

We don't think of Shostakovich as a ballet composer yet he wrote three between 1929 and 1935. Neglect is not wholly unconnected to their musical shortcomings but, as often with Russian-Soviet cultural production, all is not what it seems. For the early Soviets, antic modernism was not intrinsically suspect, as long as it paid lip-service to anti-Western sentiment. Today it's the agitprop, party-line scenario of The Golden Age that's more likely to derail revivification. A soviet football team is visiting a Western city (Berlin?) where temptations fiscal, political and sexual are provided by an assortment of politically incorrect Aunt Sallys. The visitors are subjected to matchrigging and police harassment until, finally, the team captain is freed from unjust imprisonment through the solidarity of the local working class. The tangle of incidents allowed Shotakovich to deploy many disparate idioms, the most famous novelty being the Polka (disc 2, tr 8). Other episodes anticipate the harsher word of Lady Macbeth and the Fourth Symphony.

Richard Whitehouse's annotations attempt a performance history of material which has since appeared in numerous guises. One entr'acte is that cheeky, pre-existing arrangement of Vincent Youmans's Tea for Two, aka Tahiti Trot (disc 2, tr 5). In a piece uneven by design, not everything bears close listening. An exception is the extended Adagio or Dance of the Diva (disc 1, tr 9), evoking the Josephine Bakerish artiste who attempts to seduce our hero. Here things begin evocatively on soprano sax but the weirdly miked solo violin sounds out of sorts in a reverberant acoustic that muddles detail at high decibels. That said, Serebrier's generally well pointed account is bettervalue than its repeat-shy rival under Rozhdestvensky.



Julian Haylock
Classic FM, January 2007

Based on a story about a Soviet football team visiting a 'decadent' western city, The Golden Age features 37 eclectic numbers of vitality and scorching momentum.



Scott Morrison
Amazon.com, December 2006

In 1930, shortly after Shostakovich returned to Soviet Russia from his first extended trip to Western Europe he composed the score for a ballet that came to be called 'The Golden Age' (or, as it is often translated into English, 'The Age of Gold'). During his sojourn he had been much influenced by his exposure to jazz, to the cabaret-style music of 1920s Berlin, and to the spirit of 'I don't care' encountered in jazz age Europe. The evening-long ballet was premiered in late 1930 in Leningrad and although it had a respectable run, it was not a great success largely because the choreography was, according to some, inept. The plot of the ballet was supposedly a satirical look at capitalist Europe vis-à-vis communist Russia. It depicts the triumphant exploits of a Soviet soccer team visiting an industrial exposition, 'The Golden Age of Industry', in a Western city called simply 'U-town.' The plot was also seen as a satire of the disarmament conference in Geneva. Certainly the music Shostakovich provided was satirical in the extreme. Interestingly the ballet has since been revived at least a couple of times with a completely different narrative (without the soccer team) and with different choreography.

Fortunately, the ballet music works perfectly well as a stand-alone work. The present recording presents the work in its final form as approved by Shostakovich; we are told (but I have not been able to verify this) that this is the first such complete recording. José Serebrier certainly has the measure of the music. He dives right in and gives us almost 2 1/2 hours of sparkling vintage Shostakovich. Most familiar, of course, is the 'Polka' (subtitled 'Once Upon a Time in Geneva') from Act III. This two minute piece is surely one of Shostakovich's most familiar works, having been transcribed for all manner of ensembles. It was the very first music I ever heard by Shostakovich, back in the 1940s, when the composer was so poorly known in the US that the musician who introduced me to it pronounced the composer's name as ShosTOCKovich. I remember being absolutely charmed, and a little puzzled, by the composer's wrong-note style and ebullient rhythms. Another excerpt from the ballet is the somewhat less familiar arrangement of Vincent Youman's 'Tea for Two' that Shostakovich called 'Tahiti Trot.'

Most of the music in the ballet goes at a fairly fast tempo and Serebrier makes the most of this, moving the many short individual pieces right along. The result of this is that the ballet comes across as cheeky, satirical, good-humored and endlessly inventive. Frankly the only passage that I thought fell a little flat (and I suspect this is more the fault of the composer than the present performance) is the ten-minute section in Act I called 'Dance of the Diva.' On the other hand, there are so many delightful sections that the diva's adagio is soon forgotten. For instance, there is 'The Supposed Terrorist', which features a flexatone in an oily waltz, or 'The Football Match' which begins with a referee blowing an actual whistle and which depicts the Soviet team mopping up the playing field with their opponents, or the sly 'Everybody amuses oneself in one's own way' in Shostakovich's trademark side-slipping harmonies. The entire Scene 5 of Act III, called 'Music Hall Divertissement' (and which contains the 'Polka' as well as a Tap-Dance, a Tango and rumbustious Can Can) is too delicious for words. The ballet ends with the Soviet system triumphing over that of Western capitalism, but one can hear in the orchestra that the triumph is overtinged with bombast and wishful thinking.

Jose Serebrier and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra cannot be praised highly enough. This is a superior performance with vitality and just the right touch of sly humor. They are given lifelike sound by engineer Phil Rowlands. I was also delighted to find the names of all the RSNO players listed in the CD's booklet; they deserve the recognition. This is definitely a set to grab.



Anne Ozorio
MusicWeb International, November 2006

This has been something of a “Golden Age” for The Golden Age, with a gala, fully-staged new production at the Mariinsky Ballet, which was repeated a fortnight later in London. The Mariinsky was where the ballet was first produced, and where it has been revived in previous years, so it can claim a certain pedigree. However, if the St Petersburg was played as poorly as it was in London, I doubt anyone would be enthused to listen to it as music. 

This new recording, on the other hand, conducted by José Serebrier, makes a wonderful case for The Golden Age as stand-alone music, for its own sake. Serebrier gets straight into the exuberant spirit of the music, inspiring the RSNO so much so that they produce an incandescent performance which eclipses the Mariinsky, at least as heard at their London performance. Indeed, it’s executed with such panache that it even challenges the far more sophisticated LSO (with no less than Gergiev, at the 2006 Proms) and the Hallé (with Elder at Aldeburgh 2006). Music written for ballet is by nature episodic because it must allow for set-pieces for dance. It therefore needs an underlying thrust to convince as a musical whole, particularly if it is ever heard purely as music, as is the case with this recording.

Shostakovich had recently returned from a first visit abroad. He was fascinated by jazz, modern dance, agitprop cabaret, indeed the whole creative, chaotic buzz of 1920s Germany. Shostakovich could disguise his discoveries by working them into the plot of the ballet, pretending to be mocking them. That is perhaps why the music still rings true with a sense of enthusiastic commitment. A rapid succession of tableaux unfolds – a waltz, a polka, a tango, jerky, angular rhythms that evoke the spirit of social subversion that the “jazz age” represented, even in the decadent west. Shostakovich employs what were in 1920s Russia, daring, “modern” instruments, like the xylophone, woodblocks, and something known as a “flexitone”. He’s able to incorporate witty snatches of foxtrot and Charleston, and can’t resist a wicked variation on “Tea for Two” complete with saxophone.

This recording comes extremely well documented in that the booklet describes the ballet scene by scene, so you can follow the action while listening and use your own imagination to create visual images. It’s a rewarding exercise – try it ! On the other hand, you can also listen simply as music because it’s so expressive. Serebrier wisely realizes that, without the constraints of having to be in synch with dancers, the music is “freed” so to speak to take on a life of its own. Thus he uses fast tempi, which propel the music on at a heady pace. It’s exciting, because it challenges the orchestra, and they respond with enthusiasm. Dancers might have a problem keeping up, but Serebrier knows the orchestra can do so, and will. They respond with alacrity, as if they were enjoying themselves hugely.

The heady atmosphere and fast pace might conceivably unravel after two and a half hours of playing, but in Serebrier’s hands, the orchestral textures are never compromised. Everything is kept in sharp focus, clearly delineated and lucid. Even in a studio recording it’s not that easy to keep up such intensity, but Serebrier and his players don’t show any sign of flagging. Tiny details like the piccolo symbolizing the football coach’s whistle, remain clear above the tumult. There’s a real whistle, too, in the actual football match scene. Every note of the xylophone rings pure and clear. There’s so much in this music that Serebrier must have had to be very quick and minimal with his signals. Yet the orchestra sounds as if they were bristling with anticipation, executing each entry with extreme precision. There’s no margin for error at these tempi. Leopold Stokowski, Serebrier’s mentor, called the young conductor “the greatest master of orchestral balance”. This performance shows why.

Similar clarity illuminates the slower sections. The Entr’acte Tea for two is quite magical. In the Music Hall scenes, the transitions between different sections are deftly handed, changes of direction turning on a pivot with the grace of a prima ballerina twirling en pointe. Serebrier stretches the dissonances convincingly – just distorted enough to remind us of the undercurrent of serious thought that runs beneath the exuberance. This Can Can isn’t really as carefree as may seem. In the ballet, the final scene depicts the triumph of the Soviet system over its class enemies. Ostensibly the music celebrates too. But Serebrier notes the shrill wail of the flute that ends the swaggering march. It heralds a surprisingly disturbing interpretation of the sections that follow. Trumpets and trombones here subvert the ostensible imagery, and the crackling staccato tension that infuses the penultimate piece is perhaps closer to Shostakovich’s real feelings than the rictus grin he was forced to present to the official world. Serebrier has thought through his interpretation carefully and sensitively. He’s not restrained by the dangers the composer faced, so he can give voice to the darker, more despairing subtext. This Final Dance of Solidarity is far more equivocal and more questioning than would have been possible in Soviet times. Quite frankly I got infinitely more from this recording than from hearing it with ballet, or other performances. Serebrier makes a powerful case for The Golden Age as serious music on its own terms.

This is a breathtaking recording in many ways. It’s also complete and uncut and the notes are good. Don’t hesitate – this is one that needs to be listened to, even in this crowded year of Shostakovich revelations.



Barry Brenesal
Fanfare

Picture, if you will, a Soviet football team in the 1920s visiting a Western city during an industrial exhibition. All the decadence, corruption, and bureaucracy that those running dogs of capitalism could muster, thrown at the innocent youth of the Volga basin. But our boys triumph! This is the scenario of Shostakovich’s The Golden Age, a ballet premiered in 1930. Let’s not laugh too hard; every society has its myths. Young iconoclastic ones paint their myths in slightly brighter colors than the rest. Let him who is without a popular xenophobic media cast the first stone.

The liner notes to this release claim The Golden Age was a failure, but as a well-researched article by Manashir Yakubov (“The Golden Age: The True Story of the Premiere” in David Fanning’s Shostakovich Studies) points out, it was in fact an enthusiastic success, despite having five major creative hands clashing behind the scenes over the work’s form and content. Leningrad’s Spartak newspaper reported that “the congratulations and prolonged noisy ovations which greeted the producers speak for themselves,” and Shostakovich wrote a letter to a colleague happily noting the performances went well, the work a success after a cold reception to its first act. The ballet received 19 performances between October and June the following year, and was presented as well in Kiev and Odessa.

But after the powerful and militant critics of RAPM (the Russian Association of Proletarian Music) launched a campaign in print against The Golden Age, various musicians involved with the production reconsidered their support. Then Stalin and his apparatchiks took over the arts; Shostakovich was humiliated, then rehabilitated after admitting his horrific musical errors; the war arrived, and vigorously proletarian ballets were out. There was no chance of staging the composer’s early ballets. Subsequent performances of The Golden Age had to wait for the 1980s—and then, only in cut and rearranged versions. The ballet has fared no better on record, in so far as I know. The best known version of it remains a short excerpted suite, made by the composer before The Golden Age even hit the boards. It has held its own; but now we have a first opportunity to hear the entire three-act ballet, in the original order of performance, without cuts, and with all repeats intact.

It’s apparent that while Shostakovich had gathered together some of the work’s most immediately memorably tuneful pieces for his suite, there was still plenty of thematic charm in the original work that was left untouched. The ballet never seems to be at a loss for a good melody or for colorful orchestration, even when closely following the sudden shift of onstage action and mood. There are also plenty of prescient moments that point to various musical interests spanning Shostakovich’s career: the mocking two-part counterpoint (initially high and low strings, before the brass, shrieking winds, and xylophone enter) of the “Joint Sports Dance” brings to mind the composer’s Mahlerian scherzos, especially that of the Fifth Symphony, while the Prelude to act III, scene 6, recalls the grim, gray expanses of the Tenth Symphony. Throughout, there’s a sense of a young, self-assured composer delighting in finding musically idiosyncratic answers to the demands placed on him by the plot, such as the fugal bitonality over snare and bass drums that characterizes “The Bourgeoisie in Panic.”

Serebrier is attentive to the dramatic and colorful values of the score. He never attempts to tone down passages when Shostakovich deliberately employs heavy dissonance, and as a result, they sound fresh and jarring. He can lighten magically when appropriate—the act II intermezzo, “Everybody amuses themselves in their own way,” is an excellent example of his handling of wispy textures. I felt that occasionally he favored density over rhythms, but then, this isn’t a stage performance, and the almost symphonic weight of some material justified such an interpretation. (The “Tahiti Trot—Tea for Two,” in a delicately satirical arrangement—was more than a bit too sober, however.) The Royal Scottish National Orchestra continues to impress me as among the finest of contemporary orchestras. I would dearly love to hear this team reunited on the other Shostakovich ballets of that period, The Bolt and The Limpid Stream, as well as the ballets of Prokofiev.

Sound is excellent, and the liner notes include a breakdown of the action linked to specific CD cuts. No Shostakovich fan should be without this.






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