CD Reviews 30
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Podrugi (The Girlfriends), opus 41(ii)[a]; Rule, Britannia! opus 28[b]; Salute to Spain, opus 44[c]; Symphonic Fragment (Symphony No. 9, first version, January 1945)[d].
Mark Fitz-Gerald, National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Agnieszka Bochenek-Osiecka (soprano)[a], Aleksandra Poniszowska (soprano)[a], Elżbieta Starczynowska (soprano)[a], Sabina Myrczek (alto)[a], Adam Myrczek (bass)[a], Kamil Barczewski (bass)[c], Camerata Silesia, Anna Szostak (artistic director) [a–c], Celia Sheen (theremin)[a].
Naxos 8.572138. DDD. TT TBD.
Recorded in the Grzegorz Fitelberg Concert Hall, Katowice, Poland, 27–30 August 2008[a–c], 20–22 September 2008[a–c], 21 September 2008[d], 23 October 2008[a], 6 January 2009[c]; Oxshott, Surrey, England, 23 June 2008[a: track 14]
A treasure trove of Shostakovich rarities is heading our way. The Journal has been provided with an exclusive advanced peek at a path-breaking CD soon to be released. Thanks to the initiative of Naxos’s Head of Production, Peter Bromley, who also oversaw the world premiere recordings of Shostakovich’s complete scores to the filmsHamlet and Alone, we are treated to yet another aficionado’s dream come true. The new CD consists of four more world premiere recordings: the music for the film The Girlfriends (1934-35); the score for the stage productions ofSalute to Spain (1936) and Rule Britannia (1931); and to further whet the appetite, a six-and-a-half-minute score of an aborted version of the opening of the Ninth Symphony. Could the gaps in the Shostakovich discography be filled any more colourfully?
The conductor of this musical offering is Mark Fitz-Gerald, whose scouting of the composer’s works in recent years has been far from casual. His rendition of the aforementioned score for the film Alone (Odna) – which, along with Krzysztof Meyer and Irina Shostakovich, he helped reconstruct – became a Naxos best-seller in 2008. Fitz-Gerald has also received accolades for his performances of another Kozintsev/Trauberg/Shostakovich classic, New Babylon, again in its complete form. With the current release, Fitz-Gerald establishes himself as one of the indispensable Shostakovich interpreters of our time.
When the opportunity arose to restore and perform the score for The Girlfriends, Fitz-Gerald accepted the challenge with characteristic enthusiasm. Working with a DVD copy of the film, he took up the painstaking task of transcribing more than a dozen scoreless items that, along with the scored numbers, make up twenty-three tracks of the current CD. Irina Shostakovich also contributed to the project by presenting Fitz-Gerald with the pre-publication score of eight preludes written for the film, all but one included in the original production. New titles were added, and a separate track is devoted to this excised segment.
The film itself was director Lev Arnshtam’s first solo effort. Arnshtam previously worked collaboratively on Golden Mountains and Counterplan, and would go on to direct Friends and Zoya, all of which films benefit from scores by Shostakovich. The Girlfriends, or more appropriately The Girl Comrades (Podrugi), tells the story of a trio of sisters who, from their youthful years together, go on to serve as nurses in the Russian Civil War. The story, exemplary in its socialist message, demonstrates that women also have a place in wartime service. The most engaging musical parts are those scored for string quartet, either alone or in combination with solo trumpet, harp, or piano. In these short movements lasting from two to five minutes each – one might call them small musical poems – Shostakovich manages to explore different moods and textures so adroitly and sensitively, one would never suspect that these are his first forays into string quartet writing (with the exception of two small transcriptions of 1931). The manner in which string quartet and piano are combined in other movements looks ahead to the musical language of the Piano Quintet and Piano Trio to follow in the next decade. We also hear, in some movements, a xylophone-embellished string quartet slip into some sinuously silly shenanigans, where, along with the earlier transcription of the Polka fromThe Age of Gold, the medium of the mature composer meets the rambunctious message of youth. When the film was restored in the 1960s the moderato from Shostakovich’s First String Quartet (1938) was added as the main title music.
The score to The Girlfriends displays a virtuoso handling of a number of genres along with more than a hint of musical adventurousness. A few of the reconstructions had Fitz-Gerald seeking the assistance of a number of instrumental specialists. Take, for example, the offbeat version of the ‘Internationale’ for solo Theremin, whose whooping interjections may bring to mind to pleasantly bewildered listeners Jimi Hendrix’s solo version of The Star Spangled Banner. The two movements that include the organ posed the greatest transcription challenges, according to Fitz-Gerald. You would never suspect it hearing The Year 1919, a maddeningly celebratory affair with all stops pulled for organ and three trumpets.
We also find two original choral arrangements of the folksong ‘Tormented by Lack of Freedom’, which Shostakovich quotes in his autobiographical Eighth String Quartet of 1960. One of the arrangements features a bass soloist with an impressively resonant voice. Also included in the work is a heart-rending song for two voices, ‘Where Are Those Warm Nights?’; a touching movement for string trio; a tender love scene for piano quartet; and one of the disc’s delightfully quirky marches. Punctuating the score throughout are now proud, now giddy trumpet fanfares. A final Adagio, a lament over the body of Asya, one of the comrades, brings this diverting and wide-ranging suite to a sombre conclusion.
The suite to Adrian Piotrovsky’s play Rule Britannia forms less of a mixed media affair as it consists of six fully orchestrated sections, two of them including chorus. The play’s anti-capitalist plot centres on an English cannon-boat named Rule Britannia, anchored in a Western port. Piotrovsky, who also wrote the tongue-in-cheek libretto to Shostakovich’s ballet Limpid Stream, perished in prison during the 1938 purges. The script for Rule Britannia, along with other manuscripts of the persecuted playwright, was destroyed or went missing, leaving the sequence of certain musical events uncertain. Fitz-Gerald was also left with the challenge of orchestrating the movement entitledProtest, which exists only in its original piano version. He rose to the task, producing a score that merges seamlessly with the style of the remaining pieces. Practically the entire suite is cast in march time. The opening movement consists of a series of mercurial episodes that culminate in a choral version of the ‘Internationale”. In the ‘Infantry March’, Shostakovich lifts ideas from the March of Fortinbras, from his earlier stage music to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, before taking the piece in its own direction. A totally original and charming march follows.
Thanks to the existence of a published version of the play, there was no difficulty piecing together the sequence of musico-theatrical events in Alexander Afinogenov’s Salute to Spain. The action takes place during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), with sympathies offered, of course, for the anti-Fascists. Shostakovich’s affinity for Spanish music is heard throughout his oeuvre, most prominently in the Seventh, Eighth and Fourteenth Symphonies, as well as, of course, in the opus 100 Spanish Songs. Here we find one of the earliest, if not the earliest, manifestation of that musical kinship. The highlight of the score can be found in the doleful Spanish-inflected ‘Song of Rosita’, in which an old man tells the sad story of the girl who turned her last bullet on herself in order to avoid Fascist capture. The tune’s heartfelt sorrow prompts Fitz-Gerald to speculate that in it Shostakovich was longing for his girlfriend, then one Elena Konstantinovskaya, who, along with many other Russians, had left for Spain to support the Communist side of the Revolution. A dreamy orchestral reprise of the melody follows later in the suite.
Otherwise, the score again shows Shostakovich’s fondness for fanfares, which comprise three of the suite’s nine parts. A cheery march, with perimeter-skidding modulations, comes as a delightful discovery. The vocal selections give the suite its emotional anchor. A sombre tone is set by the choral setting of two well-known Revolutionary songs: ‘Along the Valleys and Over the Hills’ and ‘To The Barricades’, the latter being a tune that Shostakovich was evidently quite fond of. He used it the year before in the film score Youth of Maxim, and some twenty years later, most notably, as the main theme of the finale of the Eleventh Symphony. It also appears in his music for the filmUnforgettable Year 1919. Its place in Salute to Spain is especially appropriate as it was one of the most popular of the Spanish Civil War songs, here with words by the noted Spanish poet/anarchist Valeriano Orobón Fernández. The arrangement for male chorus on the recording is Fitz-Gerald’s own, based on the version that appears in Youth of Maxim. ‘Along the Valleys’ as it is recorded is also a Fitz-Gerald adaptation. At first he thought he might be able to borrow Shostakovich’s orchestral arrangement of the song from the film score of Days of Volochayev. That arrangement, however, turned out to be too grand a finale for its place in Salute to Spain. Instead he extracted the lines for male voices from Shostakovich’s arrangement, which, as it turns out, fittingly stands on its own.
In the epilogue the script calls for the performance of the march from Beethoven’s Eroica to accompany Rosita’s funeral. Shostakovich obliges, after a fashion, starting with a few upbeats in C Minor, as in the Beethoven, but then moving, quite deftly, into his own sombre tango-inflected march to conclude the work.
The final cut on the disc brings to life an unfinished symphonic movement that lay hidden for more than half a century in the Shostakovich Archives in Moscow. The recovery and identification of the score are due to the Russian musicologist Olga Digonskaya, who found the pages tucked away in the manuscript of another ill-fated Shostakovich project, the music for the unfinished opera The Gamblers. That the score is in fact the unfinished first version of the Ninth Symphony was only accepted with certainty upon another astonishing discovery by Ms Digonskaya – this one at Moscow’s Glinka Museum. Among a folder of hitherto unexamined sketches of the composer’s was one whose date, marked 15th January 1945, confirmed what already had been suspected. It’s the kind of corroborating evidence that scholars live and pray for. The fragment from the Archives clearly shows that Shostakovich’s notions of how he would complete a trilogy of war symphonies had drastically changed between the time of its composition and the time he began the 9th Symphony of record in mid-July. Not only does the tone of the music stand in grim contrast to the grinningly mischievous 9th that we know, it defies some of Shostakovich’s most tried conventions. In place of a firmly declared main theme, which usually is stated at the outset of a Shostakovich opening movement, we find a stormy sequence of short reiterative vamps that keep circling round and round each other, as if hopelessly trapped in some hellish storm. The music churns, the vamps at one point becoming accompaniment figures to a second idea screaming in the high winds and later appearing as urgent exhortations in the brass.
The listener may wonder how a symphony that begins in such a heightened state of agitation could have possibly advanced. Shostakovich, himself, expressed his doubts to his friend Isaak Glikman. He would, eight years later, recast the second theme as the second subject of the first movement of his Tenth Symphony, as listeners will clearly recognise. The theme also turns up in a sketch for a Violin Sonata, another aborted work of the same period. The episode points to a moment of creative crisis in Shostakovich’s life and casts a fascinating light on his creative processes and working methods.
Performances throughout by the Polish RSO and their constituent members are totally dedicated. And the notes by film expert John Riley promise revelations of their own. Eyes will certainly be on any and all future endeavours of Maestro Fitz-Gerald and Executive producer Peter Bromley. Meanwhile, listeners will have many fascinating discoveries to look forward to in the forthcoming CD. The expected May 2009 release date is keenly anticipated.
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Rothschild’s Violin, sans opus K (Veniamin Fleishman, completed by Shostakovich)[a]; The Gamblers, sans opus K[b].
Vasily Petrenko, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Jacek Janiszewski (bass – Yakov Matveievich Ivanov, Bronza”[a]/Alexey[b]), Elena Gabouri (mezzo-soprano – Marfa Ivanova[a]), Andris Lapins (tenor – Rothschild[a]/Colonel Krugel[b]), Michal Lehotsky (tenor – Moses Ilyich Shakhes[a]/Ikharyov[b]), Peter Danailov (baritone – Stepan Ivanovitch Uteshitelny[b]), Roman Astakhov (bass – Shvokhnev[b]), Piotr Nowacki (bass – Gavryushka[b]), Alexei Ekkel (bass balalaika)[b].
Avie AV2121. DDD. 2-CD set TT 37:07 + 45:37.
Recorded live at Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 27 September 2006.
This live performance of Rothschild’s Violin is only the third commercial release of the opera and fills the void left by the retirement from the CD catalogue of Gennady Rozhdestvensky’s 1995 Rotterdam recording (RCA Victor Red Seal 09026-68434-2) – Rozhdestvensky’s 1982 premiere recording for Melodiya (LP A10 00019 004) has yet to appear on CD.
On its surface, Chekhov’s 1894 short story Rothschild’s Fiddle appears too slight a candidate for an operatic makeover. The old coffin-maker Yakov Ivanov, nicknamed Bronza, augments his meagre income by playing his violin in a klezmer orchestra in the stetl, together with a poor flautist who incongruously bears the name of the famous millionaire Rothschild. Irritated by Rothschild’s mournful playing, Bronza insults him and quits the orchestra. Bronza surveys his life and tallies naught but financial losses, even including the necessity of making a coffin for his dying wife, Marfa. When Marfa tries to remind him of their baby girl to whom they used to sing songs beneath the willow trees by the river 50 years ago, Bronza remembers neither the baby nor the willows. After Marfa’s funeral, Bronza’s reflection on his unwarranted neglect of his spouse throughout their years together is interrupted by Rothschild, sent to fetch Bronza by the orchestra’s conductor, Shakhes. Irritated, Bronza refuses to come and chases Rothschild away with curses. Afterwards, Bronza goes walking. Coming to the river, he recognises the willow tree and remembers the baby who died in infancy. He realises he has poisoned his life with his glass-is-half-empty outlook. To make amends, he gives his precious violin to Rothschild. End of story.
Yet Shostakovich saw operatic potential in this material, and in 1939 suggested the project to his conservatory student Veniamin Fleishman. Fleishman completed the libretto and piano score but only around a third of the orchestration before war broke out. During the siege of Leningrad, Fleishman joined the People’s Volunteer Brigade, and was killed in action in September 1941. Shostakovich completed the remaining orchestration, including the opera’s opening and closing pages, by February 1944.
Fleishman’s libretto reassigns most of Chekhov’s third-person narrative to Bronza. Although Fleishman closely shadows the language of the original short story, a handful of significant omissions diminish his opera’s scope. Missing are the episodes in which Bronza accompanies Marfa to the doctor, who does nothing for her, and Bronza’s fateful visit to the same doctor, at which he realises that his own death is imminent. This latter event in Chekhov’s tale prompts Bronza’s reflection that death will be a welcome respite from losses; without it, the transition to his operatic soliloquy on this theme is jarring.
Also absent from the opera is Bronza’s deathbed scene, in which he asks his priest confessor to give his violin to Rothschild. Instead, a vital Bronza whose musings on death are still only hypothetical hands over his violin to his former victim.
Most striking of all, Fleishman – himself Jewish – deletes the virulently anti-Semitic rants that Bronza hurls at Rothschild and, by extension, all Jews. Taken together with the removal of the Christian last rites scene, this change renders ambiguous Yakov (Jacob) Ivanov’s ethnic identity; note his Hebrew first name and archetypical Russian surname. Written in the context of rampantly anti-Semitic nineteenth century Russia, Chekhov’s tale was bold in proposing the Jew Rothschild as a worthy beneficiary of the Christian Bronza’s newfound philanthropy: “If it were not for hatred and malice, people would get immense benefit from one another.” In Fleishman’s version, the violin links two individuals who may or may not both be Jewish, serving as a tool of reformation of a curmudgeon … but not an anti-Semite.
Though the opera loses this dimension of interethnic reconciliation, it admirably conveys the humanism of Chekhov’s story through emotionally involving thematic development. Despite the multiple levels of influence Shostakovich had on what we now hear of Fleishman’s opera, we can discern a transparency of line not characteristic of Shostakovich’s contemporary works. Jewish motifs are prominent throughout (Shostakovich had not yet included them in his own oeuvre), including a traditional Hanukkah tune embedded in Bronza’s rueful admission that in 50 years he never looked after Marfa, never cuddled her.
Key to the opera’s emotional impact is the soulful violin solo theme that portrays Bronza’s remorse over his lost daughter and reappears for his reconciliation with Rothschild. In the purely orchestral concluding pages, Shostakovich’s arrangement transports this theme’s development into the sound world of his Leningrad Symphony’s climactic close. Given the intimate scale of the opera, this fanfare sounds disproportionately grandiose. It seems significant that Shostakovich chose to project Fleishman’s work through the lens of his Seventh Symphony, completed in 1941, rather than his Eighth, finished in 1943 just before he took up Rothschild’s Violin. Perhaps what we have here is a turn away from Chekhov’s play to face the audience with a tribute to a respected student who died heroically defending Leningrad; a victory flourish for the resurrection of a work Shostakovich loved and saved from oblivion.
Rozhdestvensky’s RCA recording remains desirable, but Petrenko’s new version plumbs deeper emotions. Petrenko’s Bronza, Jacek Janiszewski, is graver and more aged than Sergei Leiferkus on RCA. Especially in passages where he reflects on missed opportunities, Janiszewski conveys more true regret, with a more wistful tone. Petrenko’s Marfa, Elena Gabouri is also appropriately frailer than Rozhdestvensky’s soprano, Marina Shaguch.
As for the quality of the orchestral playing, both contenders are well matched. Rozhdestvensky directs his players with characteristic deliberation and strong accents; for this material, I prefer Petrenko’s brisk and lyrical approach.
Avie’s coupling is another wartime opera left unfinished by its original composer (Krzysztof Meyer’s 1980 completion was recorded by Michail Jurowski conducting the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie; Capriccio 60 062-2). Again, Avie field a strong team, though I find the Gogolian absurdity of Shostakovich’s opera to be better served by Rozhdestvensky’s premiere recording (BMG/Melodiya 74321 60319 2; reviewed in DSCH 11; deleted; reissued as Melodiya MELY 1001192). Neither Petrenko nor Jurowski give us that ridiculously drunken tremolo on the bass balalaika for Gavriushka’s solo that we hear in Rozhdestvensky’s recording or that of Andrei Tchistiakov on Saison Russe (RUS 788115 or 7799115; reviewed in DSCH 9 and 14; deleted).
Avie present a spacious and rather distant soundstage for both works, with a decent dynamic range after turning up the volume to compensate for the low level of the recordings. The audience are not in evidence, but one can occasionally make out what sounds to be Petrenko humming along to louder passages.
Elena Silina’s booklet notes for Avie’s Rothschild’s Violin provide more details on the work’s gestation than do the unaccredited notes to the RCA release. One questionable item is her attribution of the libretto to Alexander Preis, the librettist of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, unlike other commentators and the score’s publisher, who all identify Fleishman himself as the librettist. Rosamund Bartlett’s notes on The Gamblers are admirably informative. Avie provide French and German translations of these notes, but regrettably only an English translation of the libretti of both operas; no Russian text, either in Cyrillic (as on RCA for Rothschild’s Violin) or transliteration. Still, this omission does not prevent this otherwise handsomely packaged release from earning a firm recommendation.
W. Mark Roberts
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Twenty-four Preludes & Fugues, opus 87.
David Jalbert (piano).
ATMA Classique ACD22555. 2-CD Set TT 147:03.
Recorded at Salle Françoys Bernier, Domaine Forget, Saint-Irénée, Quebec, August and September 2007.
Kori Bond (piano).
Centaur CRC 2896/2897. 2-CD Set TT 143:47.
Recorded at Goranson Hall, Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho, 4–6 September 2004 and 5–10 June 2006.
Two recent recordings of the complete set of Shostakovich’s Twenty-four Preludes & Fugues make valuable additions to a sparsely populated portion of the catalogue. Canadian David Jalbert and American Kori Bond, fairly new faces on the concert and recording scenes, each give cause to celebrate the diversity of interpretation that this monumental cycle invites.
Jalbert is an up and coming musical figure in the United States and Canada, where he concertises regularly. His recording debut in 2002 was followed in 2004 by his highly acclaimed first solo disc, dedicated to the works of John Corigliano and Frederic Rzewski. That was followed with equal success in 2006 by a recording of the complete Nocturnes of Gabriel Fauré. He is a pianist who is clearly inspired by challenges. It turns out that since he was a teenager he has been fascinated with Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues.
Kori Bond has been a member of the music faculty at Idaho State University since 1999. She also enjoys an active concert career, mainly in the mid-Western region of the United States. In December 2006, in celebration of the Shostakovich centenary, she gave a recital of the Twenty-four Preludes and Fugues over the course of two nights in Salt Lake City. It was perhaps the first time the complete cycle has been performed publicly, at least in America, since the death of Tatyana Nikolaeva in 1993.
Jalbert and Bond offer intelligent, sensitive, highly individual performances, though with very different points of view. Bond’s preferred rendering of the work (so she has said), by Konstantin Scherbakov (Naxos 8.55475-6; reviewed in DSCH 15), is an unlikely choice, given the contrast between the latter’s impersonal if technically fluent reading and Bond’s engagingly vital one. Jalbert’s crisp rhythms and pristine touch place him in the contemporary camp of interpretation, in contrast to Bond’s Romantic vision of the work with her more rubato-inflected lyricism. Their differences are already evident in the toccata-like Prelude 2, whose scurrying runs fly with exhilarating pinpoint precision in Jalbert’s hands, whereas, in Bond’s they invoke a dreamy fantasia with the help of the sustaining pedal. In Fugue 6, Jalbert’s tempo is tight, determined and gracefully prancing. Bond’s is significantly slower – compare her 5:15 to his 4:21. Nonetheless, she exhibits particularly fine voicing in a more textured reading of the peaks and troughs. In the rat-tat-tat reverberations of Fugue 5, Jalbert finds poetry in a firmly moored tempo, in contrast to the phrase-savouring approach of Bond.
Bond turns a musical phrase exceptionally well, shedding new light on the process. She gives a wonderfully heartfelt reading of Fugue 1, where each statement of the main idea unfolds as if it were a fresh discovery. Jalbert, on the other hand, does something quite different here. He is not a pianist who usually pursues extremes. Yet in Fugue 1, his timing is an astonishing 5:10, more than twice that of Bond, and by far the slowest on record. In this thoroughly probing reading he manages to hold the line and build, in a manner we’ve never heard before, a mighty fortress of a fugue.
Otherwise it is Jalbert’s rhythmic propulsion and tactile finesse that gives his pianism its charisma. His cascading arpeggiations in Fugue 7 sparkle with steely fluency, while Bond’s Mendelssohnian evocation of forest nymphs takes us into more sensuously articulated territory. Jalbert captures more of the whimsy in the twinkling grace notes of Prelude 8, and more of the impish pluck of the Prokofievan Prelude 19.
In Fugue 8, a notable point of comparison, Jalbert takes an assertive tack and turns the obsessive anapaests of the main idea into rhythmic bullets. In a less monolithic, more textured reading, Bond once again embraces individual phrases and plumbs the music’s depths with purpose and feeling.
Bond’s regard for lyrical detail yields dividends in most but not all the numbers. She pries apart the infamous thickets of Fugue 15 with uncommon clarity, yet doesn’t quite capture the broad sweep of the piece. Jalbert’s brilliant execution forms one of the highlights of his traversal.
Bond initiates the obstinate procession of parallel octaves in Prelude 3 in a manner that at first seems too shy, especially for these imperiously defiant Musorgskian tones. Unlike the uniformly assertive Jalbert, she escalates to thunderous crests in an inspired reading that is nothing less than revelatory. In the parallel octaves that begin the austere Prelude 12, we find a curious reversal of these roles. Here it is Jalbert who starts low-keyed and who amplifies as the piece progresses.
In the final entry, Jalbert carries the ruminative weight of Prelude 24 and the opening bars of the accompanying Fugue with Elgarian dignity and restraint. At the accelerando marking he shifts into high gear, dramatically so. With barely held back excitement he brings the cycle to a thrilling catch-your-breath conclusion. Bond’s interpretation again differs significantly. In the Prelude and early part of the Fugue her tone is more valedictory, her pace more measured. There is more continuity across the accelerando juncture. And yet her ascent to the final peroration conveys a titanic sense of struggle, her rubati generating waves of determination, yielding a finale of hard won victory. Both pianists bring the cycle to a majestic conclusion.
Recordings of the complete set of Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues are few and far between. Two exceptional performances arriving within days of each other makes us very lucky indeed. Both are strongly recommended.