, February 2003
What have we here? Russian film music by Shostakovich. Two scores from the thirty-five he produced for the cinema industry between 1929 and 1970. This is the first recording of the complete score for The Fall of Berlin which Gauk conducted as a five movement suite for a Melodiya LP in 1952. We also hear the much shorter first complete recording of the suite from The Unforgettable Year 1919. The suite was recorded on LP by Alexander Gauk in 1956 minus the Assault movement (a pocket piano concerto) and the Intermezzo. You might remember the 'piano concerto' which is a sort of super concise version of Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto. It was the filler on Dimitri Alexeev's Classics for Pleasure LP (later CD) with the two Shostakovich piano concertos. The 1919 suite was prepared by Shostakovich's close friend, Levon Atovmyan.
The films each interleave a re-creation of history (war and insurrection) with a story of love and friendship. History, relentless and heroic and propagandised (though probably no more than by Hollywood), is thrown into some relief by the lives of ordinary people caught up in or trodden down by events. In fact the two spheres are complementary; there was no room for satire or personal dissent.
The Fall of Berlin music has its share of conventional gestures but certain tracks stand out. Beautiful Day and Stalin at Berlin Airport are brightly and forwardly sung (trs. 2 and 15). Alyosha by the River is magically hushed. Several times it seemed that the composer was looking back to Beethoven's Pastoral (trs. 2, 5). A feint in the direction of symphonic gravity can be heard in In the Devastated Village and The final battle (trs.7 and 13) looking towards symphonies 7, 8, 10, 11 and 12. More often than not the composer borrows familiar gestures from Borodin (Second Symphony) as in Main Title Part 2 and Storming Seelov Heights (tr. 9, 11) and from Rimsky-Korsakov in The final battle (tr. 13).
Waxman, Rózsa, Steiner and John Williams have written bumptiously regal music and Shostakovich pulls off the same trick in the Finale of the Berlin score and in the Tsarist preening of the Introduction of 1919. The 1919 score is not quite as unforgettable as the year it was meant to portray. Here the references are again to Razliv, Tchaikovsky and steppe-loneliness Slav gestures whether in gloomy reflection or hussar charges redolent of Miaskovsky (tr.23 1.47).
Can we now implore Marco Polo and Adriano to record as much as possible of Ovchinnikov's score for War and Peace? A DVD series of the Shostakovich and Prokofiev films would be welcome too.
If this is not quite essential Shostakovich it makes a self-recommending acquisition for any DSCH student. Superbly produced and executed by Adriano, Marco Polo, the Moscow Orchestra and the Moscow recording team.