Film Music of Dmitri Shostakovich 3/Sinaisky BBC Philharmonic

November 1, 2006


Chandos, in their continuing film series, features one of the greatest masters of all in Dimitri Shostakovich, giving us music from the incredible Suite from Hamlet, The Unforgettable Year 1919, a Suite from Five Days and Five Nights, and a Suite from The Young Guard. 25% or 36 opus numbers were devoted to films spanning a period of time from 1928-1970, so writing for film was something that Dimitri did quite a bit more than some of his other contemporary composers such as Copland, Prokofiev, and Vaughan Williams. Stravinsky, who composed at the very same time, never worked on films but concentrated on ballet, which is a form of film in its own way. And how Shostakovich managed to survive under the thumb of Stalin for almost all of his life is well beyond me!

Of the four films included on the CD Hamlet will likely be the one of the most interest to the soundtrack collector while the others may have a little appeal; the classical/Shostakovich fancier will find them a good listen especially given the wide difference of style from his normal symphony and quartet writing. Either the Hamlet Suite (Op. 116), which is what is performed on this CD less the “In The Garden” track, or the complete published score Op. 116a (available on NXS 8.557446) are seldom talked about. I do consider this work to be in my top 100 scores of all time! The suite, arranged by friend and colleague Lev Atovmian, required little more than to select which tracks were to be included. For some reason Lev chose to reverse the poisoning scene with the arrival of the players so if you wanted to listen in the correct scene order just program your player to listen to track 5 first and then track 4. The “Overture” or “Introduction” is a highly infectuous theme with its sharp staccato like brass phrases followed by the melody on the string section, a mourning dark ominous one of things to come. It is followed by an even darker statement on the cello and bass section. If you happen to have the older Unicorn LP from 1975 (has been re-mastered to CD) with Bernard Herrmann and the National Philharmonic the overture track is taken at a considerably slower pace (actually more of a largo pace than Sinaisky’s interpretation). “The Palace Ball” is a very lively presto depicting a court dance with nice brass phrases augmenting another excellent theme. “The Ghost”, which is an almost universal track in every known version of Hamlet, is dark and mysterious enough to be played as scary track for the children on Halloween. “Arrival of the Players” is a lot more typical of what we are use to hearing from Dimitri with that wonderful rhythm and tempo. “Ophelia” features a gypsy like solo violin followed by a graceful statement from the harpsichord, before the church bell and the entrance of the orchestra. “The Duel and Death of Hamlet” restates the beginning theme from the opening overture. It is a track that one could easily substitute into the correct scenario in a modern day score.

“The Assault on Krasnaya Gorka” is from the 1951 film The Unforgettable Year 1919 and is essentially a one movement Rachmaninoff style piano concerto. Of note in Five Days and Five Nights is the performing of a small section of the Beethoven 9th and the song of joy in “Liberated Dresden”. The Young Guard is an example of a very nationalistic work that Shostakovich likely had no choice in composing in that way likely due to party lines. It is pleasant enough to listen to but is a mourning somber suite for the most part.

The recording is going to require you to raise the volume level up a notch or two. The 24 bit recording is clean and clear but for some reason in need a bit of a boost. From the comparisions that I could make with Naxos and Unicorn recordings the overall performance and conducting are yet another fine addition to the series and is a recommended recording. This is a fine series of recordings from Chandos over the years and should be supported as welcome additions to your collection, introducing you to composers you may not be familiar with.

Golden Scores Rating is ***1/2

Total Time is 79:47

Produced by Brian Pidgeon and Mike George

Sound engineer is Stephan Rinker

CD# is 10361

Track Listing:

Suite from “Hamlet”

1. I Introduction. Largo (2:46)

2. II Ball at the Palace. Presto (2:56)

3. III The Ghost. Largo (4:38)

4. V Scene of the Poisoning. Largo (6:47)

5. VI Arrival and Scene of the Players. Allegro (1:50)

6. VII Ophelia. Andante (3:32)

7. VIII Duel and Death of Hamlet. Allegro – Largo (6:02)

From “The Unforgettable Year 1919”

8. The Assault on Krasnaya Gorka. Allegro (7:29)

Suite from “Five Days and Five Nights”

9. I Introduction. Adagio (6:32)

10. II Dresden in Ruins. Largo (6:19)

11. III Liberated Dresden. Moderato – Presto (6:04)

12. IV Interlude. Andante – Allegro – Tempo I (5:48)

13. V Finale. Moderato – Allegretto (8:05)

Suite from “The Young Guard”

14. II By the River. Moderato – Allegro – Tempo I (4:02)

15. IV Turbulent Night. Moderato – Adagio (2:36)

16. V Song of the Young Guardsmen. Moderato sostenuto (3:20)


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