SHOSTAKOVICH: Music for the films The Counterplan, Alone, The Tale of the Silly Little Mouse, Hamlet, The Great Citizen, Sofia Perovskaya, Pirogov and The Gadfly
Royal Concertgebouw Orch/Riccardo Chailly, cond.
London 460 792 (F) (DDD) TT: 78:02

Riccardo Chailly's Concertgebouw recording of "jazz" music of Dimitri Shostakovich (London 433 702) was a great success and well deserves its popularity. After that, London issued more music of Shostakovich in the form of "The Dance Album," which included The Bolt, The Gadfly, Cheryomushki and ballet suites, recorded with Chailly and the Philadelphia Orchestra, another example, unfortunately, of the difficulty all recording companies seem to have getting good sound in Philadelphia (London 452 497).

 Now we have another CD in Chailly's Shostakovich series, The Film Album, fortunately with the conductor on home ground with his Concertgebouw Orchestra. It is a winner in every way, representing a wide range of moods of the composer in a genre that goes back to his early days as a student when he played piano for silent films. The major work is a 20-minute suite of music for the 1930 film Alone, which was the first Soviet sound film, the story of a teacher forced to work in the remote Altai, saved from death by the villagers; imaginative scoring for this includes the theremin. Another feature is a seven-movement suite from the 1964 film Hamlet (which Chailly and the Concertgebouw featured on their recent U.S. tour, heard by this reviewer at the Kennedy Center in D. C.), as well as shorter excerpts from The Great Citizen, Sofia Perovskaya, Pirogov, The Gadfly and The Counterplan. Also included is a charming miniature, The Tale of the Silly Little Mouse, a "opera" of 12 minutes' duration. This was a 1939 animated film; Shostakovich wrote the music first, the visuals were added later to fit the music. This is the story of a baby mouse that refuses to sleep. Neighborhood animals unsuccessfully try to sing a lullaby to the mouse to get it to sleep; finally the local cat makes an attempt, but with an ulterior motive and is about to eat the mouse when a dog rescues it and returns it to its mother. When she sings the lullaby, the little mouse finally goes to sleep. This opera was originally written for narrator and voices; the version recorded here, with the approval of the Shostakovich estate and prepared for this recording by Andrew Cornall, who produced this CD, has vocal parts transcribed for varied instruments. It's an enchanting score, another side of the versatile Russian composer. Throughout, Chailly and the RCO play magnificently, and London's reproduction is superlative, very clear and defined without the bass overkill that, to me, mars many recent Concertgebouw discs for the label. Highly recommended!

On the subject of film music of Shostakovich, another CD is of great interest (Citadel CTD 88129 [F] [DDD] TT: 62:24). This features music for the film The Golden Mountains (with its huge fugue for organ and full orchestra), The Tale of the Priest and His Worker, and a five-movement suite from Adventures of Korzinkina, one of the most enchanting and inventive of Shostakovich's film scores. This music was once available on a Melodiya CD (MCD 194), now out-of-print on that label, but reissued on BMG (59058), coupled with other early orchestral works of Shostakovich.  The Citadel recording is by the Belarus RTV Symphony under Walter Mnatsakanov, a fine performance if not quite equal to Rozhdesvensky's.  Most important on the Citadal CD is the world premiere recording of The Silly Little Mouse in its original form with narrator and solo voices, in an excellent performance. A complete text is included. For devotees of Shostakovich, this CD is essential, as is the London Film Album.

R.E.B. (Oct. 2000)