Films by Bruno Monsaingeon: The Red Baton; Gennadi Rozhdestvensky Ð Conductor or Conjuror? Extras: Schnittke: Dead Souls; Prokofiev: Zdravitsa

COMPOSERS: Films by Bruno Monsaingeon: The Red Baton; Gennadi Rozhdestvensky Ð Conductor or Conjuror? Extras: Schnittke: Dead Souls; Prokofiev: Zdravitsa
LABELS: International
ALBUM TITLE: Notes Interdites
PERFORMER: Symphony Capella Chorus & Orchestra/Gennady Rozhdestvensky
Medici Arts / Ideale Audience
CATALOGUE NO: 3073498
By starting with the elegiac big tune of Zdravitsa, Prokofiev’s toast to Stalin’s 60th birthday, Bruno Monsaingeon’s The Red Baton threatens to follow an all-too familiar path, tormenting the ghosts of the Soviet Union’s leading composers with their most compromising party-pieces. Yet after the one major misconception of the film – the notion that all-encompassing state control in 1932 brought an end to artistic freedom, whereas in fact Prokofiev and Shostakovich welcomed it as ending the machinations of the vicious Proletarian Musicians’ Union – what we hear are the Russian geniuses’ darkest, most dangerous scores. Startling archive footage and cruel juxtapositions find, for example, party hack Tikhon Khrennikov talking about the ‘lively, joyous and well-written finale’ of Prokofiev’s otherwise unacceptable Sixth Symphony, Rozhdestvensky conducting the shattering screams that nearly end that work, followed by Khrennikov himself singing and playing one of his doggerel popular songs.

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Monsaingeon’s film is full of such touches, and spotlights Rozhdestvensky as a spokesman of scathing Gogolian irony. Rozhdestvensky’s philosophy is superbly clarified in the second documentary. Conducting, he says, is all charisma and a highly professional art; you arrive at rehearsals with the score in your head, assess the orchestra’s capabilities and do the bare minimum, saving inspiration for the concert. The documentary ends movingly as he comments at length on his filmed performance of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. The chief action extra is a wild and brilliant concert performance in which he conducts his arrangement of Schnittke’s film music for Dead Souls. Alas, choral sopranos ruin the other extra, the complete Zdravitsa. David Nice