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Shostakovich in 2006, Part 3

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Shostakovich, The Golden Age (complete ballet), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, José Serebrier (released on November 21, 2006)
If The Golden Age, a ballet produced at the State Academic Theater in Leningrad (St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater) in 1930, was a failure it was not because of Shostakovich's score. Excerpts of the music were included in later ballets, a suite based on the ballet, and piano versions made for the Ballet Suites collection. Although not the first (but the most recent and the cheapest), this recording of the complete ballet has much to recommend it. It is based on the most accurate source for the original production, a piano score edited by Manashir Yabukov, reflecting what Shostakovich anointed as the final version of the score. Since the ballet was pronounced a failure by the Soviet authorities, later perceptions of the score were made through subsequent redactions. This recording also claims to observe all of the repeats indicated for the premiere performance.

The plot is an absurd tale, involving the visit of a Soviet soccer team to an unspecified Western city, identified only as U-Town. When the Mariinsky Ballet attempted to revive the ballet earlier this year, reviewed in its London performance by The Guardian, American choreographer Noah Gelber did his best to update the scenario, by casting the love story not as something that is happening right now but that is viewed historically. Fortunately with a CD recording, the listener's imagination can provide the choreography and scenario and one can merely focus on this side of Shostakovich's musical imagination, the acidic humor (the hysterical "Soviet Dance" in Act I is a manic Offenbach galop on steroids) and extravagantly coloristic orchestration (lots of saxophone, sneering brass glissandi, silly percussion, bumbling contrabassoon, and even a flexatone in Act I's "The Supposed Terrorist" and Act III's "Touching Coalition of the Classes, Slightly Fraudulent").

It is no secret that we at Ionarts are fans of Uruguayan-born conductor José Serebrier. With all of the jazz and popular idioms cheek and jowl with classical traditions, Serebrier brings vital energy throughout, not only in the grotesque waltzes and oompah band sections, but in slow movements like the luscious, tender Adagio "Dance of Diva," where the languorous soprano sax solo incarnates the tempting Western woman who eventually asks the leader of the Soviet team to dance with her. The RSNO's playing is uneven at times, for example not quite aligned at all points in "Foxtrot ... foxtrot ... foxtrot" (CD 1, track 19) -- speaking of which, is that the main theme of "Springtime for Hitler" somehow coiled inside this music? Where the conflict of capitalist and communist comes to a head, of course, is the Music Hall, the "divertissement" that opens the third act, with its jazzy Chechotka (Tap-dance), sultry Tango, famous Polka ("Once upon a Time in Geneva -- Angel of Peace"), and the most clattering, cataclysmic Can-Can that could be imagined. Bravo to Serebrier for the imagination behind the shaping of this sprawling, wandering score.

Naxos 8.570217-18

Go back to Part 2 / Part 1

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