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La Mer Ticciati
Cantatas for Soprano
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Dmitry SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Ovod (The Gadfly) Op.97 - complete original film score (1955) [52:28]
The Counterplan Op.33 - excerpts (1932) [9:18]
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Bachchor Mainz/Mark Fitz-Gerald
rec. Philharmonie Ludwigshafen, Germany, 2017 NAXOS 8.573747 [61:46]
For avid admirers of Shostakovich and his film music, this is a very welcome, valuable and fascinating release. It is the third such reconstruction of a complete film score undertaken by Mark Fitz-Gerald released by Naxos and the diligence and rigour of his work is shown by the fact that these newly edited scores have been included in the definitive published complete edition of the composer's works. The first release by Naxos was of Shostakovich's quite brilliant score to the silent movie New Babylon. This impressed me so much that I included in my "recordings of the year" at the time.
This new recording emulates the earlier one in terms of its quality of recording, playing and care in the reconstruction. There is for me though a major difference - the actual worth of the music itself and where it sits in the composer's canon. New Babylon was a significant score for Shostakovich regardless of the genre. In the late 20's all things seemed possible both for Shostakovich and the fledgling Soviet Union - New Babylon teems with invention and striking aural imagery complimenting a film that retains its cinematic power today. Conversely, by the time of The Gadfly Shostakovich's approach to film writing was a lot more pragmatic and practical - in a literal sense it kept him and his family alive with food on the table and the political police away from the midnight door. Shostakovich being Shostakovich there is much pleasure to be had in the effective and often memorable music he wrote here. If you like the Shostakovich of the Ballet and Jazz Suites there is much to enjoy here too. It is always fascinating to note the opus numbers too. Opus 93 is Symphony No.10 and then there is a run of ten plus opus numbers before the Cello Concerto no.1 op.107 which encompasses this current film score, some three other films including the powerful Hamlet score, the ever popular Festival Overture and 2nd Piano Concerto as well as the 11th Symphony.
The Naxos liner is excellent at not only detailing the synopsis of the film and score but also explaining the place it holds in the composer's oeuvre. In brief, the narrative is about a revolutionary - the eponymous Gadfly - taking part in the revolt of Italy again the ruling Austrians. The book on which the film was based was hugely popular in the Soviet Union and - as liner writer John Leman Riley explains - chimed with Soviet themes of the rejection of organised religion and the unification of disparate states under one national flag. This new edition of the score consists of 29 mainly brief cues plus two further tracks written but excluded from the final version of the film. Of course, the suite from the score will have been familiar to many listeners for a long time. Even those who do not know thhe complete Op.97a suite compiled by Levon Atovmian will surely know some highlights from it - especially the famous Romance which was the theme of the UK TV series Riley Ace of Spies. Conductor/restorer Mark Fitz-Gerald also contributes details of the reconstruction required to the liner and points out that Atovmian restructured, re-orchestrated and indeed composed new links to create the coherent 12 movement suite that is most familiar. Along the way, out went church bells, an organ and guitars, while the cue titled Youth [track 4] became the well-known Romance, amongst other changes.
But here is the rub. Except for completists such as myself, are the Atovmain changes significant in changing the feel and scope of the score? This new reconstruction runs to 47 minutes - the complete Op.97a suite in Leonid Grin's performance on Capriccio and Jose Serebrier's on RCA both take around 44 minutes and Kuchar on Brilliant around 42. Since 3:46 of the new disc consists of the Dona Nobis Pacem from Bach's B Minor Mass, it can be seen that there is little difference by length alone. The reason for this is the way the Suite expands often brief cues - the new complete recording is notable for the brevity of many of the excerpts - although it has to be said that Fitz-Gerald is very good at cohering them together these literal fragments. On this new recording, I do enjoy the quirkiness of the scoring that has been ameliorated by Atovmian. Most of the 'best' music from the full score has been preserved in the suite, too, although such cues such as The Austrians [track 3] and Montanelli leaves the prisoner's cell [track 26] are full of that kind of cinematic drama that Shostakovich could produce on cue - pardon the pun - to great effect. Fitz-Gerald also notes that his chosen tempi reflect those used on the original soundtrack, which often add urgency and dynamism to performances usually heard in the suite. A copyist's error is corrected in Romance/Youth, meaning that the solo violin plays a quite different note from the one commonly played. In some ways that correction crystallises this disc - film composer buffs and Shostakovich completists will be delighted to have an urtext edition now available, while for those less obsessed with this score an existing recording of the Suite will probably suffice - that said, Serebrier's is oddly somnambulant and if that is the only version you have it probably should be replaced. For those wanting their first version of the score, this new disc is very satisfactory indeed. Good engineering by Deutschlandradio, bright and alert playing by the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz means that this is a thoroughly enjoyable but far from vital addition to the Shostakovich discography. That said there is one rather odd moment in Youth (reprise) [track 25] which sounds like a good old fashioned 'spare'. At 1:29 the harp comes in a tentative quaver/eighth note early - I assume this isn't some subtle textual correction but just wrong. If so it is a shame this was not picked up in the post production editing.
The disc is filled out by three excerpts from the 1933 film score The Counterplan. These are the same excerpts included in the Delos series of Shostakovich film scores played by the Byelorussian Radio & TV Symphony Orchestra. Again well played here - the first movement quite a bit quicker than the Delos disc - but with the Byelorussian players more idiomatically Soviet in their sound. I have no idea how much more of this earlier score exists – it’s a shame that time and budgets did not permit more from it to be included here. Certainly there is space on the disc. So this is a recording valuable for filling in another small piece of the jigsaw that was Shostakovich's creative life. By no means vital but certainly fascinating and fun.