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Notes and Editorial Reviews
This disc offers the premiere of the complete score to Michail Tsekhanovsky's projected animated film of Pushkin's short story The Tale of the Priest and his Worker, Balda. Shostakovich wrote about 50 minutes' worth of music for the project, but the director never finished the film and so most of the music never saw the light of day (or the screen). The music, which dates from the early- to mid-1930s, is exactly contemporary with the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, the Cello Sonata, the First Piano Concerto, and the Fourth Symphony, and so comes at the height of the composer's early maturity. Bits have appeared on disc before, most notably thanks to Gennady Rozhdestvensky on Melodiya.
Although like most film scores the various cues aren't long (a couple of minutes on average, with a few double that length), the music is extremely brilliant, and Shostakovich had the advantage of working with a director willing to adapt the film to the music rather than the other way around, so each bit has an unusual degree of formal completeness.
The scoring also is quite brilliant, with the first half written almost entirely for winds and percussion, and throughout the writing for strings is quite sparing. There is some mercifully brief narration (for a young boy's voice) and a good bit of singing from both soloists and chorus representing the various characters.
The story is charming: an arrogant priest gives his servant three supposedly impossible tasks, but the servant completes them all and as his reward gets to give his master three sharp knocks on the head. It's easy to understand how this subject would have appealed to the Soviet authorities a century on down the road, but the important point is that the demands of the party and Shostakovich's musical inspiration never find themselves at odds with one another. This may not be "great" music in the wider sense, but it is a major work fully characteristic of its composer and typical of his style at this time, and so having it all on disc is more than welcome.
Happily, the performance is outstanding in every way. Thomas Sanderling obviously relishes the music's humor, but also has the good sense to make sure that his orchestra and vocal forces respect the work. Tempos are lively, the ensemble is well-drilled, and balances are excellent. Certainly the very busy winds and brass do a terrific job in keeping the energy level consistently high--this is cartoon music after all, and emotional depth isn't the point. It's all about brilliance and color.
Highlights include several dances (for bell-ringers and a bear; there's a waltz, and even a not very serious Dance of the Dead), as well as a lovely lullaby and some very amusing appearances of the Devil. Shostakovich's own brief suite from Lady Macbeth (just three short interludes) makes an apt coupling in similar style, and the engineering is just great. This is a must-have for fans of the composer, and a wonderful addition to the Shostakovich discography in this, his centenary year. [9/13/2006]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Tale of the priest and his servant Balda, Op. 36 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Irina Narskaya (Mezzo Soprano),
Fyodor Bakanov (Bass),
Andrei Suchkov (Spoken Vocals),
Dmitri Beloselsky (Bass),
Dmitri Stepanovich (Bass),
Sergei Balashov (Tenor),
Evgeniya Sorokina (Soprano),
Herman Yukavsky (Bass),
Dmitri Ulyanov (Bass)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra,
Moscow Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1936; USSR
Venue: Studio 5, State Broadcasting, Moscow, Ru
Length: 54 Minutes 53 Secs.
Notes: Studio 5, State Broadcasting, Moscow, Russia (05/2006 - 06/2006)
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Wonderfully Shostakovich! September 20, 2012
By R. Ellis (Santee, CA) See All My Reviews
"Being a Shostakovich 'fan' and having listened to his music ever since I first heard his 5th Symphony when it was first released in the U.S., I especially enjoyed this disc because it is SO much his music! I am not at all familiar with "The Tale of The Priest..." and when I listened to it for the first time, it was a wonderful experience. I have no idea as to plot or what the words mean but still the music brings a smile. There is humor here but I don't know why. The contrast to the bonus piece, "Lady Macbeth Suite" is striking. Like a painting dealing with light and dark, the two pieces are a nice combination. Excellent production values and the voices are quite well done. The booklet which accompanied the disk is excellent."
A Five Star Discovery!! September 4, 2012
By W. Brown (Centerburg, OH) See All My Reviews
"This is an exceptional recording of two world premiere recordings. I just love Shostakovich for his wit and humor which definitely comes out in "The Tale of the Priest." Thomas Sanderling does an amazing job bringing out the various colors of the instruments. The recorded sound is outstanding, and the engineers for Deutcshe Gramophone deserve high praise for their endeavors. I was not familiar with these works, but after listening to this recording, I want to investigate further into Shostakovich's obscure works. If you want something different to add to your collection, grab a copy of this recording. Highly Recommended!!"