Shostakovich: The Maxim trilogy; The Man with a Gun; A Girl Alone; King Lear

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: The Maxim trilogy; The Man with a Gun; A Girl Alone; King Lear
PERFORMER: Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, BBC Philharmonic/Vassily Sinaisky
Indulging the clamour of film-music buffs for the complete, Swiss-born conductor Adriano’s resurrection of Shostakovich’s score for The Fall of Berlin is an act of special cruelty to the composer’s memory. Composed during the dark final years of Stalin’s reign for a hack-drama which glorifies the Soviet leader even as it parodies Hitler, the music is at best high pastiche, at worst excruciatingly banal. ‘Stiff and monotonous’ is how a Russian authority on Soviet music describes it, and though Adriano quotes her in his booklet notes to disagree, few will care to join him. Once past the splendour of Moscow brass and the authentic children’s and adult choruses, the performance flounders; and though The Unforgettable Year 1919, composed in the best-forgotten year of 1951, offers the bizarre contrasts of a tarantella and a mini Tchaikovsky piano-concerto movement, both jaunts expose the playing at its scrappiest.


With nearly 40 Shostakovich film scores to choose from, there’s no excuse for this, and although Vassily Sinaisky launches a promising series on Chandos with a hybrid suite arranged by Levon Atovmian, his selection is authentically varied. The propaganda of the Maxim trilogy, recorded with vivid impact for brass and percussion, could become too much in the more conventional Man with a Gun; but the weird little Mahlerian march for the Smolny movement comes as a surprise. A Girl Alone is silent-film music by the audacious composer of the Fourth Symphony, full of bleak, unpredictable ensembles; the Lear of Kozintsev’s 1970 masterpiece is surely Shostakovich himself in the music, pain incarnate. The extra solo and choral passages in both these scores might have been a bonus, but the sequence is still riveting without them. David Nice