SHOSTAKOVICH: Scherzo, Op. 1. Theme with Variations, Op. 3. Scherzo, Op. 7. Music for the films Alone, The Tale of the Priest and His Servant Balda, Golden Hills,  and Adventures of Korzinkina. Music for the play The Bug, and the opera Big Lighting. Six transcriptions for orchestra (works of Scarlatti, Beethoven, Johann Strauss II, Rimsky-Korsakov and Youmans). Two Fables after Ivan Krylov, Op. 4. Romance on Pushkin's Poem  Spring. Suite No. 1 for Jazz Band.
Vocal soloists/ chamber chorus / USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra/Gennady Rozhdestvensky, cond.
BMG/MELODIYA 59058 (2 CDs) (M) TT: 73:15 & 70:34


This is a welcome reissue of Melodiya recordings from 1979-1985, some never before on CD. Those who only know Shostakovich by his symphonies and string quartets will here find another side of the composer, a lighter side never suggested by the gloom, despair and massive sonorities of many of his better-known works. In his early years Shostakovich often played piano for silent films writing music for them as well. Some of these scores were lost or existed only in manuscript. It is to the credit of conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky that many of these have been found, premiered and recorded. Rozhdestvensky's conducting often is prosaic, but in this repertory he is entirely convincing, perhaps because of his personal identification with the composer and his music.

There are many delightful treasures on these two CDs. Much of it is oom-pah-pah circus music to be sure, but Shostakovich always finds delightful tunes to go with it.  Rozhdestvensky reconstructed music from hand-written drafts of the score for a mid-thirties animated film by Mikhail Tsekhanovsky, The Tale of the Priest and His Servant Balda, then gave the premiere of the concert suite in 1979 at which time this recording was made. Sigrid Neef, who wrote fine notes for this CD set, prepared the text for a Berlin revival in 1986. Rozhdestvensky also compiled a suite of music composed in 1930 for the film Alone, and scoured the archives to find bits of manuscript for a 1943 production of the never-completed comic opera Big Lighting, premiering and recording the 16-minute suite in 1980. There are seven excerpts including four songs. Another premiere is a 10-minute suite from The Bug, written in 1929 for a play by Vladimir Mayakovsky, assembled, premiered and recorded in 1982.

Also welcome in this set are Shostakovich orchestrations of two sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti dating from 1928, his re-orchestration of Stravinsky's orchestration of Beethoven's Song of the Flea, sung by bass Evgeni Nesterenko), and a 1940 orchestration of Johann Strauss's Excursion Train Polka, used for a dance interlude in a production of The Gypsy Baron. Shostakovich's orchestration of Rimsky-Korsakov's Romance is a student work; he was but 15 at the time. The final orchestration is the famous one of Vincent Youman's Tea for Two called Tahiti Trot, written in less than an hour in 1928 at the suggestion of Nikolai Malko.

Rozhdestvensky's fine performance of a 6-movement suite from the short comic film Adventures of Korzinkina, was a highlight of an earlier Melodiya CD (MCD 194), and remains a charmer, particularly in the finale with its enchanting small chorus. Golden Hills (sometimes called Golden Mountains), is one of the composer's better-known works, unusual in its massive organ fugue and delightful waltz that features a Hawaiian guitar.

Performances throughout are superb, and Melodiya's resonant recording is appropriate for the music. Highly recommended.

R.E.B. (Sept. 1999)