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George Dorris
Ballet Review, June 2012

This silent film is an expressionist comic-tragic treatment of the Fall of Paris to the Prussians in 1870, while New Babylon is a luxury department store representing the corrupt French society that brutally put down the Commune that had taken over the city when the Prussians left. Shostakovich’s score juxtaposes irony, nose-thumbing humor, and quiet introspection, providing a parallel track and commentary on the action rather than accompanying it. Brilliantly scored for a small orchestra, it provides a link to his score for the 1930 ballet The Golden Age, with its famous polka.

Fitz-Gerald’s splendid recording of the complete score…emphasizes the score’s many contrasting elements…The extensive annotations offer valuable insights into both the highly original film and its score. © 2012 Ballet Review

Stephen Schwartz, May 2012

Incredible re-thinking of movie music.

The music bucks and bites, with a heavy satirical use of L’ Marseilles and Offenbach’s famous can-can to show the frivolity of the bourgeoisie as well as its duplicitous use of patriotism. Shostakovich displays such a sharp sense of stage picture and mood that you can almost see the images before you. Despite the many snaps and stings, the composer gives you moments of tenderness, cruelly lopped off. An old Communard finds a piano as part of the street barricades and sits down to play a “French Song” (actually a Jewish one). He goes on for a bit before a sniper picks him off.

Fitz-Gerald and his Baslers do a crisp, clean job. © 2012 Read complete review

Geoff Brown
BBC Music Magazine, March 2012

Fitz-Gerald uses his own edition of the score, prepared after careful research.  The joy of it lies in the light instrumentation of 18 players, mostly one to a part, which adds new clarity to a varied score offering plenty of signposts to the Shostakovich to come.  There’s also the novelty of 130 extra bars—four new minutes of bitter music for the film’s original ending, subsequently cut. © 2012 BBC Music Magazine

Cinemusical, January 2012

The music for New Babylon, spread over eight reels, is filled with plenty of music that is perfectly cast in the voice of the young Shostakovich…The sheer energy of the music is one of its most immediately engaging features. The galop-like rhythms appear in reel one and will recur throughout the score in stark contrast to deeply moving lyrical segments. Shostakovich loves to cast solo winds (especially staccato bassoon lines) against trumpet ideas and fast moving strings in this score. It is a rather unique sound that will be explored more in concert works.

Most fascinating in this score is the emotional content of the music. The score is not intent on highlighting specific punctuations but more expressing the fabric of scenes adding a depth to the on-screen images.

The music sounds clear and crisp as a result and much more like a chamber work. One is struck at how brilliant the entire ensemble does sound however and the recording equally aids this process with proper sound imaging…the members of the Basel Sinfonietta are simply fantastic in this performance with clean articulation and a real sense for how this music connects with the style…Naxos’ superb early film music releases and is not to be missed…this and the earlier release are worth adding to your collection as they present two valid and well-crafted performances of this fascinating early Shostakovich score. © 2012 Cinemusical Read complete review

David Bratman
San Francisco Classical Voice, January 2012

there’s something for everyone in this music. If you don’t like the mood now, it’ll change in the next minute. Throughout, Shostakovich’s orchestration is brilliant, and the Basel Sinfonietta plays it all under Fitz-Gerald’s sure direction with unflagging dedication and precision, with an ear to the crisp bite and unpredictable moodiness that the composer obviously wants. Blaring trumpets, wailing clarinet, caustic violin, a large battery of sometimes surprising percussion—and their startling opposites in coy gentleness from the same instruments—all stand out, while mixing into a coherent ensemble. It’s hard not to sense that Shostakovich’s honest original voice is speaking here… © 2012 San Francisco Classical Voice Read complete review

Richard Whitehouse
International Record Review, January 2012

this superbly performed rendition by the Basel Sinfonietta conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald, enhanced by vividly realistic sound and extensive booklet notes from four Shostakovich specialists, makes the strongest case for a score that, in terms of the film medium, its composer equalled only rarely and which he arguably never surpassed. © 2012 International Record Review

Stephen Eddins, December 2011

This lively and engaging performance by Mark Fitz-Gerald leading the Basel Sinfonietta is its first complete recording. The music shows Shostakovich at his most giddy, whimsical, and irreverent. Its stream of consciousness development is constantly inventive and intriguing; this is a recording that’s likely to be of strong interest to the composer’s fans. © 2011 Read complete review

Craig Zeichner, December 2011

this new recording, performed by the Basel Sinfonietta and conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald, is on an entirely different plane since it presents all the surviving music from the original lost score.

This is high-octane music whose sheer audacity makes up for its lack of subtlety.

The Basel Sinfonietta are superb. The music is rhythmically complex and filled with some pretty grotesque passages, but the ensemble is always polished and precise. Conductor Mark Fitz-Gerald steers the group through the thorniest passages while maintaining a solid sense of pace and continuity. The sound quality is very high end. The brass and percussion have a punch that is thrilling while strings and winds have warmth. The Naxos Film Music Classics series has been consistently excellent, but with New Babylon and other Shostakovich scores (Odna, The Fall of Berlin and The Girlfriends) it has become indispensible. © 2011 Read complete review

Steve Arloff
MusicWeb International, December 2011

We are indeed fortunate that both survived so we can hear what is certainly an outstandingly brilliant, witty, poignant and altogether wonderfully inventive score. It is immediately obvious that Shostakovich was already a creative genius whose abilities and style were already formed by that early age. © 2011 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, December 2011

To my mind one of Naxos’ finest ever discs. Superb music making allied to a seriously impressive scholarly reconstruction of a very important score. Topped off with ideal engineering and as interesting a booklet as you will currently read. Petrenko might be taking the Shostakovich headlines just now but this is ultimately the more important release. © MusicWeb International

Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, December 2011

Discovery of the Month

Having heard only excerpts before, this recording of the complete score for New Babylon came as a revelation. I really need add little to Nick Barnard’s very detailed and appreciative review of this latest in the fine Naxos series of Shostakovich’s film music. The recording still sounds very well in the inevitably slightly limited mp3 format. © 2011 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, November 2011

The score presented here is as significant as it is relatively unknown and this new recording can lay fair claim to being definitive.

Whether measured by the yardstick of the history of cinema, the Soviet Union or simply as part of the Shostakovich oeuvre this is an important release. Add to that the fact that this recording offers the most complete, skilfully reconstructed and authentic...rendition of the score yet made. It becomes a compulsory purchase. It is a magnificent piece of work and one that shows how even at the tender age of 23 Shostakovich understood the compelling power of the moving image.

Fitz-Gerald conducts the Basel Sinfonietta and they prove to be stunningly fine collaborators.

Without doubt this is one the finest all-round achievements by Naxos. Read complete review

Norman Lebrecht
La Scena Musicale, November 2011

The first complete recording, on two CDs, on the 1929 film score has more than curiosity value. It affords a rare glimpse of the composer as a youthful mischief, before Stalin and the system contrived to crush his spirit. …a necessary addition to my shelf.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2011

The world premiere recording of Shostakovich’s score for the silent film, New Babylon, a story of Paris besieged by the Prussians in 1870 and the following rise of the Commune. The excellent accompanying booklet details the years after the Russian Revolution when a new freedom initiated a crazy period in the arts that would later be denounced in the Stalin era. Still technologically years behind the western world, Russia were without the facilities to make ‘talky’ films in 1928 when New Babylon was filmed, and a young Shostakovich was commissioned to write a film score in three versions: one for a chamber orchestra, another for a trio, and a third for piano, the object being to show the film in all cinemas, large and small with the appropriate sized accompaniment. Shostakovich won an immediate concession in being allowed to write a score that told the story without it being linked with each frame of the film. Having already earned a living playing the piano in cinemas, he was well equipped for the task, though he had to write the whole score in a very short period, a fact that is often more than evident. The booklet relates that the film was ‘censored’ before it was first shown, and cuts were made in haste. Even then the film was an abject failure, though more recent showings have revealed the artistic style they were trying to achieve. Shostakovich’s score was then officially ‘lost’, but it did exist, as Shostakovich indicated when he wrote that ‘it required some work’ to make it playable as a ‘stand alone’ work. What we have in this new release is the whole of that original score, and, as an addition, the original ending that Shostakovich was made to change so as to give the defeated Revolution forces an optimistic ending. Maybe this is not a major part of the composer’s career, though it shows the direction his music was taking prior to the 1930’s. It is here performed by a chamber orchestra as Shostakovich intended, and conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald who has already recorded on Naxos other neglected Shostakovich film scores. The recorded quality is very good.

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