Schnittke, Film Music v.4,
Strobel / Berlin RSO
Take equal parts James Bond, 70s soft porn soundtrack, and Henry Mancini and you should get something akin to the concert suite derived from Alfred Schnittke’s music to the 1970s film “Sport, Sport, Sport”. “Sport”—mocking the exertions of sportive Russians in pursuit of athletic activity and excellence—won a sort of Soviet silver merit badge of film: it was immediately banned by the censors. (Gold would have gone to those eminently deserving censorship, but subtle enough to slip through.) I am sure that with that in mind—and the film screened, the whole package would turn this silly, sometimes saccharine, and flamboyantly ethnic music into poignant accompaniment. Unfortunately we don’t have the film to go with it.
“Adventures of a Dentist” is more indicative of Schnittke’s polystylism with its many baroque and classical quotes; and where he cuts and pastes Tchaikovsky (on the accordion) in “Sport”, Handel and Bach are his subjects in “Dentist”. There is no way to avoid a broad smile when Schnittke serves up the catchiest two minutes of Charleston between all this (I probably hit the repeat button half a dozen times), but altogether it’s difficult to think that Schnittke’s own arrangement of one Suite from both films might not be more satisfactory than Frank Strobel’s exhaustive arrangement of each. Great film music—Rozsa, Korngold, Rota in the West, Prokofiev beyond the Iron Curtain —is great because it remains superb music independently of the film it was written for.
The Berlin RSO doesn’t seem to mind, though—they play through the bopping and bubbling score sounding fully convinced and engaged under Russian film music-veteran Stroble’s baton. If I were a Russian expatriate, I’d grab this (volume four) and another in this Capriccio-SACD series of Schnittke’s film music, always to be at hand for a vodka infused evening of melancholia and laughter-through-tears. I, meanwhile, might check out some more Charleston, instead.