From the Movies
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
The Gadfly Suite (1955) [47.50]
Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra/Saulius Sondeckis
rec. Vilnius, 1995
Georgy SVIRIDOV (1915-1998)
Snowstorm (1964) [27.54]
St Petersburg Camerata/Alexander Titov
rec. 2002, St Petersburg
CUGATE CLASSICS CGC026-2 [75.56]
Shostakovich’s ‘Romance’ music for the Russian film, The Gadfly, was famously used as the Title music for the 1983 British TV mini-series Reilly, Ace Of Spies starring Sam Neill in the title role. Here we have the complete 12-movement suite from the original Gadfly film score. The Gadfly story and the subsequent film were extremely popular in Russia. The story, set in the revolutionary year 1848, dealt with the Italian uprising against Austria’s occupation of Northern Italy, and concentrated on the heroic activities of a young man (the Gadfly) who spurred on the Italian Revolution by his activities.
A few of the movements are quite familiar including the Gallop. At Presto tempo it scurries along light-heartedly and wittily. One might think it was almost going to break into a cancan. Other popular movements include the Folk-Feast another speedy gem that recalls Tchaikovsky’s Cappriccio Italien, the Waltz Barrel-Organ that evokes a fun-fair atmosphere and the stirring Overture, proud, determined and patriotic, declaring the revolutionary spirit that paved the way towards Italian Unification completed in the early 1870s.
But there is so much more to admire in Shostakovich’s The Gadfly. The Contradanse is a graceful minuet cast in 18th century style. Interlude is a darker creation, its swirling murky figures hinting at menace and intrigue. This mood is sustained in the Intermezzo that speaks of brutal oppression contrasted with simple, gentle folk-music. The seventh movement, Introduction, placed sympathetically immediately before the Romance ought to be far better known. It has a gorgeous long-breathed melody that has a delicious saxophone solo in its recapitulation. The Suite’s Nocturne is anything but serene; there is an atmosphere of dread with the solo cello adding a note of pathos. The following Scene proclaims a cataclysmic tragedy, the music passionately dramatic suggesting the hero’s capture, death and martyrdom. The Finale of course is an extended proud, heroic tribute and a tilt at Austrian oppression.
Sondeckis and the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, sounding much bigger than its name might suggest, deliver a thrilling and dedicated performance.
I will confess the name Sviridov is unfamiliar to me. The album’s notes inform the reader that “…in his symphonic works one can detect his obligation to tonality, rich harmonies and colourful orchestration, which makes him a kind of testamentary executor of the Romantic era..” His Snowstorm film music certainly confirms this description. He uses Russian folk-music liberally in his compositions. The Snowstorm is based on a short story from Pushkin’s Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin. The Suite’s movement-titles explain the music well enough. The booklet’s author suggests that Sviridov’s music here reflects something of the lush Hollywood style. That’s for listeners to decide.
The Suite’s opening Troika is proud and emphatic. (A troika is a traditional Russian harness driving combination, using three horses abreast, usually pulling a sleigh.) The following Waltz appeals – a sort of Slav/Viennese mix, it sweeps along; it lilts and is stately in turn. Spring/Autumn is a sweet pastoral evoking a Spring awakening with lovely verdant vistas and cloudless skies. It is oddly reminiscent of Copland. The Autumn section is appropriately wistful and tinged with a melancholic sense of nostalgia. The later Pastorale movement gently continues the mood. The Romance is not a happy one. The atmosphere is tragic and filled with unfulfilled desire and passion. There is an unsettling and persistent bass piano ostinato tread with interesting cello and violin solos and material for the woodwinds. The whole moves gloomily towards an anguished climax after which comes a relief – of sorts. The March struts and swaggers and reminds one of the pomposity of a local town band. Wedding is a dream-like tender romance that is all too soon over-shadowed by a low persistent bass-string ostinato that suggests the union is unhappy. Echoes of Waltz returns the music to a sweeter, gentler mood, Tchaikovsky’s influence is apparent. Finally Winter Road is a crushing icy evocation.
The Snowstorm is an interesting piece, composed for a large orchestra with some novel orchestrations. Titov and the St Petersburg players make a very good fist of this interesting music, making a sterling case for more recordings of this lesser-known composer’s work.
Folk Feast [2.28]
Waltz Barrel-Organ [2.11]
Spring and Autumn [2.56]
Military March [2.21]
Echoes of Waltz [1.53]
Winter Road [2.43]