SHOSTAKOVICH Film Music: Viborg District. The Man With a Gun. The Great Citizen. Passer-By. Sofia Perovskaya • Walter Mnatsakanov, cond; Byelorussian RTV SO • DELOS 2003 (65:01)
Between 1932 and 1939—spanning the period of his lowest fortune following the Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk debacle in 1934 and his revitalization with the Fifth Symphony in ’37—Shostakovich composed music for 13 films. It was his most active decade,Read more cinematically speaking, by far, and though scoring Soviet revolutionary-themed films was the means by which he attempted to rehabilitate his career, the music, though suggesting varying degrees of inspiration, was not limited to populist fodder. The excerpts offered here, from (in chronological order) Passer-By (better known as The Counterplan) in 1932, Viborg District, and The Great Citizen to The Man With a Gun from 1939, are fragmented re-creations from the original scores. (This recording, from 1995, used the material available at the time in the published Collected Works edition, which was to be expanded and re-edited beginning in 1999. More music from these films may now be in circulation.) It makes sense that these existing fragments were the most accessible pieces from the films—fanfares, stirring marches, and familiar or original folk songs. But there are the occasionally more interesting episodes where Shostakovich’s idiosyncrasies emerge, such as the extended, eloquent Funeral March from The Great Citizen, and the ominous, symphonic scene-painting of The Man With a Gun, which includes a few Wagnerian paraphrases and anticipates some of John Williams’s Star Wars maneuvers. It’s a shame that we’re not able to hear any examples of what John Riley in Dmitri Shostakovich: A Life in Film (Tauris, London) described as his “smudging the line between music and sound-effects, using factory noises as a percussive underlay to the etched and other dark music” in Passer-By.
But the most radical and most valuable music on this disc are the 16 pieces from Sofia Perovskaya, composed in 1968 while Shostakovich was hospitalized, recovering from having broken bones in both legs. Remarkably, though he was unable to view the film beforehand, he composed these set pieces solely from a copy of the script, knowing the director’s timing of the individual scenes. The story is about the rebellious activities of the title heroine, who was executed in 1881 for her participation in the plot to assassinate Tsar Alexander II. For the most part, Shostakovich’s music reflects his mature perspective—a profound cello soliloquy, the fully sustained symphonic momentum of several longer passages, even a waltz reminiscent of Nino Rota—but there are also strange episodes that flash back to his eccentric, youthful style. Two scenes are devoted to timpani with only brief trumpet interruptions; there is a section of choral writing stylistically somewhere between Stravinsky (think Symphony of Psalms) and Ligeti; and his use of piccolo to project a spirited, mocking anti-military presence in the “March” and “Execution”—the latter silenced in midphrase—is a reminder of his earliest, most audacious music.
Primarily because of Sofia Perovskaya, this release offers the non-specialist a more engaging musical experience than the majority of these compilations. Recommended to anyone who wants a sampling of Shostakovich’s commonplace and exceptional work for film.
shostakovich film musicJanuary 31, 2012By robert a. (grandview, WI)See All My Reviews"This is early film music worth listening to. The highlight of this disc is the Sofia Perovskaya. These may not be the most polished performances but on the plus side they are very expressive. Listen to the flute or is it a piccolo in the Sofia work. The other works are enjoyable.This is a re-issue from a recording originally on the Russion disc label of the 90's. Sound is not top drawer but acceptable. Performances more than competent. I Look forward to hearing more film works from this composer."Report Abuse