SHOSTAKOVICH:  Suites from Hypothetically Murdered and The Gadfly
Tchaïkovski Orchestra/Vladimir Fedoseyev, cond.

LE CHANT DU MONDE RUS 288 170 (F) (DDD) TT: 62:27

Here are fine performances of two intriguing suites by Dimitri Shostakovich (here spelled "Chostakovitch") with the "Orchestre Tchaïkovski" conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev (here spelled "Fedosseiev").  Each about a half-hour's duration, Gadfly is the best known, but Hypothetically Murdered is of greater interest. The title is the literal translation of "Uslovno ubity", which also could mean "a death under condition."  In 1930 the young (24) Shostakovich met Leonid Otyosov, a circus musician who had created one of the very first Russian jazz bands, who was planning a new production.  At this time Shostakovich had been acclaimed for the ballets The Age of Gold and The Bolt as well as his opera The Nose. He wrote 35 numbers for the play which had its premiere October 20, 1931, well received by audiences but with cool notices from the critics. It is a broad parody of political discourse about sabotage with a preposterous libretto. The plot includes a performance by the "superstar" Alpha, a German shepherd that danced in a tutu and barked as if it understood what was being said. After the initial round of performances, Hypotheticall Murdered was lost although twenty numbers existed in autograph score for piano; some of these were recycled in other works.  In 1993 the score was reconstructed by British musicologist and composer Gerard McBurney. Twelve sections are included in this suite including a delectable excerpt called Petrouchka, a vivid Bacchanale and many other dances.

The Gadfly followed Hypothetically Murdered by 24 years. The plot revolves around Arthur (The Gadfly) who is an agitator for Italian independence, his love for Gemma, his discovery that a priest is his father, his involvement in politics and final execution. There were 24 musical excerpts in the original, condensed and arranged into a suite of 12 movements by Lev Atovmian, who often collaborated with Shostakovich. Romance, one of the composer's less-inspired works, became famous as the theme for Reilly, Ace of Spies, an '80's BBC Television series.

The new Russian recording of Gadfly is brilliantly played and recorded—and rather different from the EMI Chailly/Philadelphia Orchestra recording which has many of the same pieces, but with different names.  The movement named "Finale" on the Russian recording is called "The Austrians" on EMI, and each recording contains some movements not included in the other. Shostakovich often reused some of his ideas: FÍte folklorique (on the Russian recording) is called The market place on the EMI—and actually is a tune taken from his Festive Overture, Op. 96.

Film music of Shostakovich is always fascinating, and this CD is a welcome addition to the catalog.  It is unfortunate so many fine performances on Russian Disc are no longer in the catalog (CD 10 018 - Viborg District; The Man with the Gun; A Great Citizen; Passer-by and Sofia Perovskaya), (CD 10 007 - Alone), are particularly worth searching for in cutout bins.

R.E.B.(March 2001)