Zoya & The Young Guard - Suites From Film Scores

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SHOSTAKOVICH (arr. Atovmian) The Young Guard: Suite. Zoya: Suite 1 Walter Mnatsakonov, cond; 1 Minsk Ch C; Belarusian RTV SO DELOS 2001 (61: 37)

The Russian Disc label has been gone for a while now, and with it some interesting Russian repertoire otherwise not available. Apparently Delos feels our loss, since it has embarked on a rerelease of four CDs of Shostakovich film-score suites from the departed label. This is the first of the releases, recorded by the Belarusian Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra in 1995, four years after the independence of Belarus and the collapse of the Soviet Union. (I have corrected Delos’s anachronistic use of the old Soviet name.) That a so recently liberated Belarusian orchestra was willing to record these suites says something for their emotional integrity. The memories here evoked, even 50 years later, are part of a devastatingly painful collective memory of bitter losses during World War II, and at the hands of Stalin before.

It is, after all, easy to dismiss Shostakovich’s film scores as mere accompaniment to Soviet propaganda. In fact, he wrote his 34 film scores for a number of reasons; some to pay the bills and for political expediency, but many out of conviction. These two wartime films fit in the latter category. The films extol real heroism and personal sacrifice, and the composer responds with music that is poignant, inventive, and emotionally honest. Coming on the heels of the 1946 censure of the Ninth Symphony for “ideological weakness,” no doubt The Young Guard also seeks to ingratiate. And yet, with its Coates-like main theme and relatively subdued expression, this is not everyday Soviet populism. Even The Death of Heroes , a stirring funeral march in Shostakovich’s public style, suggests by its gravity that the homage to the martyred young Ukrainian resistance fighters is sincere. The 1944 Zoya is more characteristic of Soviet expectations, with its triumphalist chorus of eternal memory and bellicose marches, yet here as well, in the heartbreaking passages for muted duo violins, and the Mahlerian interlude in the “Apotheosis,” we feel the composer’s honest admiration for Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, the 18-year-old guerilla fighter captured, tortured, and executed when resisting the 1941 invasion of Russia.

These two suites are 1950s reworkings of the film scores, with some additions, by Armenian composer Levon Atovmian. (Delos misspells it as Avtomyan.) He made a number of composer-approved arrangements of Shostakovich’s more popular music, including the familiar Ballet Suites. Atovmian’s additions here include a jaunty scherzo in The Young Guards suite composed from a fragmentary cue, and an orchestration of Shostakovich’s op. 34/14 Prelude in E?, which provides a touching Requiem, as annotator David Nice puts it, for the heroine of Zoya . With the exception of Atovmian’s banal “Song of the Young Guardsman,” inexplicably included instead of Shostakovich’s own patriotic song arrangements, the interpolations fit nicely, and the inclusion of the Prelude is a particularly apt amplification of the mood of the score.

The recorded sound is, unfortunately, reminiscent of earlier Soviet-period recordings; a bit brash and edgy in the climaxes. Violin tone is a little scratchy as well, whether from miking or substandard instruments, but in general orchestral execution is much better than competent, though more heartfelt than polished. Walter Mnatsakonov’s conducting is sensitive or rousing, as required, and the Minsk Chamber Choir is first-rate in its brief appearance. This disc joins recent Naxos and Chandos film-score releases as an important addition to the Shostakovich discography. No one who admires this composer will want to miss this, or any of the Delos series. Next up: seven suites from the early (1930–31) Alone.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: DRD 2001

  • UPC: 013491200125

  • Label: Delos

  • Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich

  • Conductor: Walter Mnatsakanov

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Belorussian State Radio/TV Orchestra, Minsk Chamber Chorus