Shostakovich: Cheryomushki (Cherry Town)

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Cheryomushki (Cherry Town)
PERFORMER: Ola Zabotkina, Vladimir Vasilyev, Marina Khotuntseva, Grigori Bortnikov, Svetlana Zhivankova, Vladimir Zemlyanikin, Vasili Merkuryev, Marina Polbentseva; Leningrad PO/Nikolay Rabinovich; dir. Herbert Rappaport (film, 1963)
CATALOGUE NO: 074 3138 (NTSC system; LPCM mono; 4:3 picture ratio
British opera-goers came to know, and half-love, Shostakovich’s only musical – operetta, more accurately, since the models are decidedly pre-Broadway – through Pimlico Opera’s 1994 production (released as a BBC Music Magazine CD in April 1995, along with an eloquent ‘letter’ to the composer from arranger Gerard McBurney). A wider Russian audience already knew this 1963 film, frequently screened on New Year’s Eve. Despite slightly outstaying its welcome even with about 50 minutes shorn from the original show, it’s a real bottle of champagne for the most part. The ‘cherry tree’ estate of the title – not the Moscow original, as claimed by the documentation, but its replica in an unspecified Russian town – provides much of the realistic backdrop for a group of vivacious young people, dubbed by expert singers (and not ‘singing actors’, again as the otherwise flavoursome booklet article suggests).

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Not much happens: the keys to an escape from crowded communal living prove deceptive, owing to the machinations of a corrupt official, but love triumphs over all. There are some beguiling dance sequences, especially the one between Boris and Lidochka – Vladimir Vasilyev and Olga Zabotkina, who are charming – and a whole gallery of deftly-observed character roles. What’s left of Shostakovich’s hit-and-miss score is played with panache by the Leningrad Philharmonic under the highly distinguished leadership of Nikolay Rabinovich. With its zestful if relentlessly buoyant period flavour, the film knocks spots off any of the recent productions. As with the vintage Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Decca is the unlikely archaeologist for this breezy gem of 1960s Soviet cinema. David Nice