ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: The Fall of Berlin; The Unforgettable Year 1919 Suite
PERFORMER: Ellena Alekseyeva (piano); Moscow Capella & Youth Chorus, Moscow SO/Adriano (2000)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570238
Posterity’s obsession with every jot and tittle of straitjacketed Shostakovich, combined with the unger for film music never designed to be taken out of context, has given us some fairly ugly specimens of his compulsory professional work. None is uglier than Adriano’s laborious approach to two scores written under extreme duress in the dark years following the 1948 show-trials. It surfaces again in the price-cutting transition from Marco Polo to the Naxos label, and as on its original release it suffers from comparison with Vassily Sinaisky’s more selective approach to the Russian composer’s cinematic works.
All anyone should really need to see, or hear, of The Fall of Berlin is Mikhail Chiaureli’s outrageous but smoothly-orchestrated final sequence in which Stalin, played by ubiquitous lookalike Gelovani, arrives at Berlin airport (it surfaces in Larry Weinstein’s documentary Shostakovich against Stalin, recently issued on DVD). Up until this point, the music veers between accomplished pastiche and monotonous banality. Adriano’s performance flares up with stalwart brass and choral contributions but swiftly lapses into rough-edged playing, with recording to match. Of The Unforgettable Year 1919, one can’t help feeling that the outrageous hybrid of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov concertos bizarrely designated to accompany ‘The Assault on Red Hill’ is quite enough. It’s all that Sinaisky gives us here; with Martin Roscoe’s grandiose flurries combined with lurid conviction from the BBC Philharmonic, this performance easily outmaneouvres Adriano’s. Furthermore, he wisely sticks to three numbers from the Zhdanov approved Young Guard and spends longer over two scores closer to Shostakovich’s sensibility. The whiplash chords accompanying Hamlet’s fateful theme resonate in Chandos’s generous wide-screen acoustics, and the Ophelia number is sensitively drawn (though there really is a case here for the full score, splendidly realised on another Naxos release, conducted by Yablonsky). Arnshtam’s Five Days and Five Nights celebrates the preservation of Dresden art works from the flames. Despite lurid flashes of optimism and a garish reference to Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, the essence is closer to the Musorgskyan panoramas of the Eleventh Symphony, and once again Sinaisky handles it with scrupulous fidelity to every shifting mood. David Nice