This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both SACD and standard stereo players.
BATTLE OF STALINGRAD • Leif Arne Pedersen, cond; Royal Norwegian Air Force Band • LAWO 1045 (SACD: 54: 56)
GLIÈRE Solemn Overture, op. 72. RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Tale of the Tsar Saltan: Flight of the Bumblebee. Read more class="COMPOSER12">KHACHATURIAN Armenian Folk Song and Dance. Gayane: Lezginka. Soviet Police March. Uzbek March and Dancing Song. Battle of Stalingrad, op. 74a. KABALEVSKY The Comedians: Galop
This release derives its title from the longest piece on the disc, Aram Khachaturian’s suite commemorating this pivotal Soviet victory in World War II. The remaining music on the disc has nothing to do with Stalingrad. Why would a Norwegian military band involve itself in such a commemoration? Norway, after all, was occupied by the Germans during the war, so Norwegians perhaps sense the enormous debt of gratitude we all owe to the peoples of the former Soviet Union for their defeat of Nazi Germany, achieved at such staggering cost in lives and material destruction. Had Hitler been able to conquer the Soviet Union, and he came close, he would have been invincible. D-Day was difficult enough even with two-thirds of the Wehrmacht occupied on the Eastern Front, where it was already beaten.
Unfortunately, Khachaturian’s eight-movement suite, drawn from his score for a 1949 film about the battle and arranged for band by Grigory Kalinkovich in collaboration with the composer, does not measure up to the gravity of the event. A suite of film score excerpts can hardly be expected to match Shostakovich’s two wartime symphonies, and especially the Eighth, in depth, complexity, and sustained power, but recalling those works makes one suspect that Shostakovich could have done much better with the film assignment as well. Much of Khachaturian’s contribution impresses me as empty bombast, with only occasional moments of melodic and other musical interest. Dogged rhythm and a tendency to repeat the same not particularly interesting motif too many times tire the listener. The section depicting the German invasion, with its unvarying galloping motif, is unpleasant but not very terrifying. Ironically, one of the more interesting movements, entitled “The Enemy is Doomed,” apparently depicts the plight of the German forces surrounded at Stalingrad after the Soviet breakthrough, in an almost Shostakovich-like evocation of total desolation. Another somewhat appealing movement, the elegiac “Eternal Fame to the Heroes,” at times recalls Sibelius. In fairness to the composer, we should remember that he completed this score in the immediate aftermath of the 1948 crackdown on Soviet composers, led by Andrei Zhdanov, of which Khachaturian was one of the targets, and that in this atmosphere any music the slightest bit challenging or unconventional would probably have been deemed “formalist” and subversive.
More engaging than Battle of Stalingrad are the four pieces that Khachaturian wrote in 1932, based on Armenian and Uzbek folk melodies. I suspect that this composer was at his best in such ethnic-themed compositions. These pieces offer a melodic interest that is rarely found in the Stalingrad suite, as well as an exotic flavor and colorful instrumentation. Another case in point is the ballet Gayane, a work closely tied to Khachaturian’s own Armenian ethnic heritage. This disc includes the wild and colorful Lezginka from that score, in an effective arrangement by George Pollen. Regarding the Soviet Police March of 1973, the notes for this recording relate a “somewhat apocryphal” story that this composition was requested by the Minister of Police to replace an “ironic and witty” march by Shostakovich that was not what the official wanted. Khachaturian’s contribution also seems fairly light-hearted and not at all menacing. It is not known what the minister thought of it, but if he wished to present a more friendly face to the public, he might well have been pleased.
Reinhold Glière’s 1937 Solemn Overture was written to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, at a time when many of its leaders and countless others were disappearing into the Gulag and the execution chambers of the secret police. Despite these ironic and sinister circumstances, the Overture is pleasing in its brilliance and exuberance. Very traditional in style, as one expects from Glière, it could easily have been written in 1900. Sometimes grand, sometimes light-hearted, and almost playful rather than solemn, it also offers a dance-like minor-key episode in the tradition of Russian orientalism. I have not heard the one other recording of this piece, by the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra, on Chandos.
Every time I encounter another arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s ubiquitous “Flight of the Bumblebee,” I am reminded once again that there is no modern stereo recording of Tale of the Tsar Saltan, the wonderful opera from which it is drawn. (Mariinsky, where are you?) Although brilliantly played by the Norwegian musicians, this arrangement for band by Gerardo Lasilli is less satisfying than the composer’s own orchestration. I must pass the same judgment on Norman Richardson’s arrangement of the Galop from Dmitry Kabalevsky’s The Comedians.
The playing by the Royal Norwegian Air Force Band under Leif Arne Pedersen is proficient throughout, and the SACD stereo sound is excellent. The documentation gives no indication that any multi-channel formats are available. I would in any case not be in a position to evaluate them, as I do not have a surround system. The CD sound is good but less vivid, spacious, and detailed, with diminished presence in the bass.
I can recommend this disc to those who enjoy band music and those wishing to explore the byways of Soviet music. There is music of interest here, and it is presented in excellent performances and sound.
Superb playingOctober 6, 2017By George Pollen See All My Reviews"Every item was played superbly on this CD. It's a pity the bass drummer didn't have the day off during Lezghinka (Khatchaturian)- a bit heavy handed - me thinks."Report Abuse
Trouble With The Multi Track LayerJune 25, 2014By Gary Barton (Cincinnati, OH)See All My Reviews"Although this disc plays perfectly well in all 5 of my standard stereo CD players, it will not play at all in my SA-CD/ Blu-Ray Marantz player. I did a firmware update on the Marantz UD 5005 unit, but the alpha-numeric display continues to read: "UNK DISC" (Unknown Disc)and the transport remains unresponsive. I have no way of knowing whether or not this problem exists for all pressings of the disc, but if you decide to order it, do not make the mistake I did and prematurely discard the sheet necessary to obtain a Return Authorization #. You may need it."Report Abuse