SHOSTAKOVICH: Odna (Alone).
Irinia Mataeva (soprano), Anna Kiknadze (mezzo), Dmitry Voropaev (tenor),
Mark van Tongeren (overtone singer), Barbara Buchholz (theremin), Vokalensemble
der HMDK Frankfurt, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mark Fitz-Gerald.
Naxos 8.570316 (B) (DDD) TT: 79:56
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Naxos and its sister label Marco Polo have done a splendid job bringing
to notice film scores by classical composers, as opposed to studio composers,
although the distinction isn't always hard and fast. Accordingly, we
have Auric's La Belle et la Bête, Frankel's Curse
of the Werewolf,
Honegger's Les Miserables, as well as scores by Shostakovich, Ibert,
Dessau, Korngold, Shostakovich, Herrmann, Korngold, and Waxman.
Shostakovich wrote film music for money, yes, but also because the medium
interested him. His first big score, for the picture New Babylon, ran
into trouble. He had conceived of the music in large, symphonic blocks.
When the Soviet censors demanded certain cuts, he had a devil of a time
refitting the music back into the film. For Odna (1929-31), he cannily
composed snippets, averaging about a minute long. In this case, the difficulty
became the then-primitive state of film sound world-wide and the problems
with even more primitive Soviet sound synchronization technology. The
film, essentially a silent, curiously blended sound effects and music,
much like the Hollywood release of Barrymore's Don Juan (1926). Shostakovich,
despite his pleasure in the orchestra and the conductor, hated the quality
of the finished soundtrack.
Knowing Shostakovich's later scores like Hamlet, King Lear, and even
The Fall of Berlin, one can see him serving an apprenticeship in Odna.
He's a great composer, of course, but not necessarily a great film composer.
The film itself I suspect is a dog, and the plot the dog's breakfast
-- a ragout of romance, musical-comedy, social earnestness, and cowboys
and Indians. Outside of work by Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Dovzhenko,
one finds very few good Soviet films during the Stalin era. A young teacher
gets sent from an idyllic life in Leningrad to the back of the beyond,
in the Altai mountains, near the Mongolian border. She attempts to teach
the children but runs into opposition from the locals, who want the kids
to tend to the sheep. When she threatens to report them, the tribesmen
plot her murder. She's left to die in a snowdrift, but makes it to shelter,
where she's still deathly ill. At this point, the tribesmen (and the
local Party official, by the way) plan her funeral, but -- ta-da! --
the cavalry arrives in the form of a Soviet airplane (how anybody outside
the village knows to send one seems to me a hole in the plot) which flies
her to safety. Another victory for the Glorious Motherland! What happens
to the kids is left up in the air.
Shostakovich writes some very interesting music, including evocative
work for piccolo and bassoon and for theremin. However, it doesn't seem
to be film music. One hesitates to say this without having seen the film,
but it doesn't sound as if it moves in the right way, as Prokofiev's
film music always does. It's pretty square, rhythmically. Some of it
sounds like music that accompanies the villain tying the heroine to the
railroad tracks -- in other words, the kind of music films had grown
out of long before. It may have been the film itself, and Shostakovich
got more film-wise as he went along.
Mark Fitz-Gerald reconstructed the score from published sources, composer
manuscripts, and the film soundtrack, although an important reel had
been lost. Any mature work by Shostakovich is welcome, but outside of
a CD it probably will have little life. I can't imagine it being performed
in a concert hall -- it has close to fifty mini-movements -- although
Fitzgerald has done exactly that. He leads a very fine performance in
very fine sound.
S.G.S. (April 2008)