Film Music Review
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Shostakovich: The Tale of the Priest and his Worker, Balda; Suite from "Lady Macbeth"



Music composed by Dmitri Shostakovich.

32 Tracks (Playing Time = 61:14)



Produced by Sid McLauchlan. Score edited by Vadim Bibergan. Soloists include Dmitri Beloselsky (bass), Andrei Suchkov (Narrator), Fyodor Bakanov (Imp), Dmitri Stepanovich (Pope, bass), Sergei Balashov (Pope, tenor), Evgeniya Sorokina (Priest’s Daughter), Herman Yukavsky (Priest’s Wife), Dmitri Ulyanov (Devil, bass), and Irina Narskaya (Devil, mezzo-soprano). Performed by the Moscow State Chamber Choir, and Russian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Thomas Sanderling. Music edited by Pavel Lavrenenkov. Design by Dirk Rudolph. Art Direction by Fred Munzmaier.

Also includes the Symphonic Suite from the opera “LADY MACBETH OF THE MTSENSK DISTRICT,” Op. 29a

Deutsche Grammophon B0006507-02

Rating: ***1/2


2006 marks the 100 th birthday of Dmitri Shostakovich though there has been hardly a rush of new recordings of the composer’s music. However, Deutsche Grammaphon released this “world premiere” of two of Shostakovich’s least known music.

THE TALE OF THE PRIEST AND HIS WORKER, BALDA, Op. 36 is music that Shostakovish wrote for a planned cartoon film by Mikhail Tsekhanovsky in 1933. The film, based on a story by Pushkin, was ultimately never completed accept for the Market scene, but Shostakovich had received the outline in advance and completed the music before Tsekhanovsky began animating. The 1930s were a difficult time for Shostakovich. His opera, “ Lady MacBeth of the Mtsensk District” was not the success he had hoped for at all. The period did see the completion of his first piano concerto and the powerful, though unsuccessful fourth symphony. It was a period of transition as well as Shostakovich moved through a series of semi-specific patriotic themed works to ones with the more universal significance of his fifth, and most popular, symphony.

BALDA is a series of 29 “pieces” as presented here. Some feature dialogue or sung texts. There is some wonderful orchestration at play here. Bassoons start off in lyric patterns but soon descend into dissonant clashes. A lyric saxophone solo appears several times with a nod to the jazz Shostakovich used in his two “Jazz Suites.” The score is made all the more enjoyable by such a richly detailed and crisp recording. The music has a kind of gentle playfulness throughout with wonderful lyrical moments punctuated by the occasional pungent harmonies. The “Waltz” is sheer magic with a wonderfully folk-like melody that moves off into unusual and unexpected directions and harmonic cadences. The comedic musical moments, sliding trombones for one, are all wonderfully executed. The singing is also clear and easy to follow with the included texts. The music will come as a great surprise for many who will hear all the gestures that would come to fill the larger symphonic works and it is no surprise that the composer’s widow, Irina Antonova, had the score completed by one of Shostakovich’s pupils.

The recording’s claim to be “world premiere” presentations is only slightly correct. A Gennady Rhozdestvensky recording surfaced back in the 1980s with the USSR Academic Orchestra that featured the instrumental segments of this score along with other lesser known Shostakovich marginalia. This recording is though the premiere of the complete assembled score and the premiere of the score as it will appear in the “New Collected Works.” The addition of the brief (6:41) three movements Shostakovich put together in 1932 from “Lady Macbeth” provides an amazing dramatic contrast to his cartoon score.

This is a worthy addition to the Shostakovish discography and is worth seeking out by fans of film music as well as the composer. The freshness of this score is amazing considering that it is some 70 years old (begun the same year as Steiner’s KING KONG!). The Russian Philharmonic Orchestra is also superb having moved up from the economical Naxos label where they have been often featured (including in a recent recording of Ifukube concert pieces).

Easily recommended.

--Steven A. Kennedy, 26 November 2006

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