The Year 1917 - Music in Turbulent Times
rec. 1955-2014 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 6969 [80.49 + 73.53]
Imagine, if you will, the scene in Bluntshire County Court. The barrister for the defence is summing-up his case for his clients, DGG, who have been accused of various offences against the Trades Descriptions Act.
“Your Honour, I put it to you that any reasonable person, seeing a collection called The Year 1917 – Music in Turbulent Times, would read the title with the ordinary meaning that it would contain the symphony, ‘The Year 1917’, written in 1961, after the composer joined, for reasons which are not clear, the Soviet Communist Party, and not that the collection contained music actually from 1917. I put it to you further that the second part of the title ‘Music in Turbulent Times’ would be understood by the man on the Clapham omnibus as meaning a collection of music from turbulent times, not necessarily 1917, but some time around then …
“Your Honour, I put it to you further that Counsel for the prosecution are guilty of unreasonable pedantry when they point out that Vaughan Williams’ ‘Pastoral Symphony’, though inspired by his experiences on the Western Front was not actually composed until after the war was completed. It is mere nit-picking to point out that Eisler’s Panzerschlacht was not composed until the 1940’s and that – in any case – there were no battles between tanks in 1917 as the Germans first deployed tanks only in 1918. And as for the absurd claim that William Dennis Browne had been killed in Gallipoli in 1915 and therefore could not have composed anything in 1917, I am sure you would agree that he would have composed fine music in 1917 had he not been tragically killed two years before.
“Your Honour, I further point out that at least some of the music, such as Les Noces and Le Tombeau de Couperin, actually are from 1917, as were the sonatas by Bridge and Debussy, the ballet by Satie and other bits. Granted Fountains of Rome and The Planets were earlier, they would have been composed in 1917 if the composers had just been reasonable and worked a bit more slowly.”
In short, this compilation seems to have been the consequence of someone in Publicity or Marketing thinking that the big anniversaries of 1917 offered a sales opportunity and raiding the back catalogues to see what could be shoe-horned in as a rough fit to match the title and the dramatic painting, New Planet, by Yuon (from 1921) on the cover.
As for performances, everything is perfectly respectable, and some very much more than that. Rostropovitch and Britten are peerless in the Bridge, Bostridge wonderfully sensitive – when is he not? – in the Browne, and there are fine performers throughout. But, to comprehend the Bridge properly, one needs the whole work and not a single bleeding chunk, however beautifully played.
The major work here is the complete Shostakovich Symphony No.12, ‘The Year 1917’, from 1961, the year following his joining the Soviet Communist party. The symphony is dedicated to Lenin. Like the (superior) 11th, it is fundamentally programmatic, though as a series of tableaux it has features of a traditional four movement symphony. The inclusion of revolutionary songs arguably does not add to its organic development. With something like this, despite much that is characteristic Shostakovich, probably the best that can be done is to perform it with the kind of energy Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra give it here. But it remains, even for those who might accept its politics, probably the weakest of the composer’s symphonies – perhaps deliberately.
Overall, then, decent performances, though rarely first choices, in a collection which adds up to not very much.
Michael Wilkinson Contents Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879 -1936)
La fontana di Trevi al meriggio [3.47]
New York Philharmonic/ Giuseppe Sinopoli Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
The Wooden Prince op. 13 Sz 60 Fourth Dance – excerpt [5.29]
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Boulez Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
El sombrero de tres picos – Danze de la molinera (Fandango) [8.01]
Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Lorin Maazel Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
The Planets, Op 32 – Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age [7.48]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/William Steinberg William Denis BROWNE (1888-1915)
To Gratiana Dancing and Singing [3.53]
Ian Bostridge (tenor), Julius Drake (piano) Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Three Songs of the War – 1. In Flanders Fields [2.27] Hanns EISLER (1898-1962)
12. Panzerschlacht [0.48]
20. Die letzte Elegie [1.18]
27. Die Heimkehr [1.32]
Anna Prohaska (soprano), Eric Schneider (piano) Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Sonata in D minor for Cello and Piano H125 – 2. Adagio [12.50]
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello), Benjamin Britten (piano) Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Les Soirs illumines par l’ardeur du charbon [2.11]
Philippe Cassard (piano) Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Le Tombeau de Couperin – Suite for piano solo [21.34]
Moniques Haas (piano) Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
‘A Pastoral Symphony’ (Symphony No 3) – 2. Lento moderato [8.50]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Roger Norrington Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Parade – ‘Realistic Ballet’ [14.12]
Orchestre National de l'Opéra de Monte-Carlo/Louis Frémaux Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Sonata in G minor for Violin and Piano – 1. Allegro vivo [4.53]
Augustin Dumay (violin), Maria João Pires (piano) Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major op.19 – 1. Andantino [9.57]
Shlomo Mintz (violin), Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Claudio Abbado Igor STRAVINSKY (1882 – 1971)
Les Noces – Part I – At the Bride’s House (The Tresses) [5.20]
Anny Mory (soprano), Patricia Parker (mezzo-soprano), John Mitchinson (tenor), Paul Hudson (bass), Martha Argerich, Krystian Zimerman, Cyprien Katsaris, Homero Francesch (piano), English Bach Festival Chorus & Percussion Ensemble/Leonard Bernstein Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No 12 in D minor “The Year 1917’ op. 112 [39.13]
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi