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Shostakovich: New Babylon (Naxos: 8572824-25) Double CD, Soundtrack

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Product details

  • Conductor: Mark Fitz-Gerald
  • Composer: Shostakovich
  • Audio CD (31 Oct. 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: Double CD, Soundtrack
  • Label: Naxos
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 137,665 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Product Description

CD Description

This recording of New Babylon, one of Shostakovich s most inventive and truly symphonic film scores, is the first complete recording of all the surviving music from the original lost manuscript full score and the first to use five solo string players only, as conceived by the composer. A remarkable collage of marches, can-cans, carnival music, tumultuous rhythms and musical quotations, New Babylon bristles with witty dissonance and brassy ebullience, emphasising the films content rather than its visual surface. Mark Fitz-Geralds two previous Naxos world première recordings of Shostakovichs film scores for Alone (8.570316) and The Girlfriends (8.572138) have been highly acclaimed. Described as one of the indispensable Shostakovich interpreters of our time, Mark Fitz-Gerald has performed the Trauberg/Shostakovich classic New Babylon (1929) to great critical acclaim, in particular at the Japanese première of the work (opening concert of the Tokyo Summer Festival in 2000) and the Rotterdam Gergiev Festival 2001.


Fitz-Gerald uses his own edition of the score, prepared after careful research. The joy of it lies in the light instrumentation for 18 players,mostly one to a part, which adds new clarity to a varied score offering plenty of signposts to the Shostakovich to come. Performance**** Recording**** --BBC Music Magazine,Mar'12

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
... as I am. Two copies bought, one for me, one for for a friend - Christmas present problem resolved. What do you get for someone who has everything - this, if the person is interested in Shostakovich.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Shostakovich and Music for Movies 20 Nov. 2011
By Grady Harp - Published on
Format: Audio CD
When most of us consider the works of Dmitiri Shostakovich we think of the angst ridden symphonies and string quartets that came form a genius composer under the stress of political censorship. But Shostakovich also 'made a living' at writing film scores for silent moves. NEW BABYLON (or Novyy Vanilion) was not only Shostakovich's first attempt at a full-score, but his only full-length live accompaniment to a silent movie. Written for a small pit orchestra, it was first played to accompany a screening in Moscow. The film was directed by Kozintsev and Trauberg, two young members of the experimental theatre-group FEKS (The Factory of Eccentrics). Shostakovich would work with both again and continue working with Kozintsev until the 1970s.

According to history resources , 'The story of the film was an experimental and politically-inspired melodrama about violence, revolution and class-conflict in Paris during the Commune of 1871. Made by two young directors - Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg -who were later to become very famous, it combined the revolutionary cinematic techniques of Eisenstein with the avant-garde acting styles of Meyerhold. Early performances of the film with this wild and satirical score caused a scandal.' Shostakovich, ever on the watch for censorship, is quoted as having said "My troubles on the political side began with New Babylon... The KIM [Communist Youth International] leaders decided that New Babylon was counter-revolutionary."

This recording of New Babylon, one of Shostakovich's most inventive and truly symphonic film scores, is the first complete recording of all the surviving music from the original `lost' manuscript full score and the first to use five solo string players only, as conceived by the composer. A remarkable collage of marches, can-cans, carnival music, tumultuous rhythms and musical quotations, New Babylon bristles with witty dissonance and brassy ebullience, emphasizing the film's content rather than its visual surface. Mark Fitz-Gerald conducts the Basel Sinfonietta in a brisk, witty, and at times pungent performance. This work may be considered 'Shostakovich-lite', but it contains so very many seeds of the rhythmic and contrapuntal elements of his major works that it merits our close attention. Grady Harp, November 11
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Complete music of the film score for the first time 15 Feb. 2012
By Dr. Christopher Coleman - Published on
Format: Audio CD
The New Babylon is a little known work by Dmitri Shostakovich. This CD contains the complete music for the experimental silent film of the same name, written and released in 1929. The work comes from the very final days of the Soviet avante-garde`s brief flowering, and it was also one of the first victims of the doctrine of Soviet Realism that was to haunt Shostakovich for the rest of his life. The film's plot centers around events in Paris of 1871: following the chaos of the successful German counterattack and departure in the Franco-Prussian war, Paris was ruled by a revolutionary Communal Council. The Parisian Communards, despite being eventually destroyed by the regular French Army, were seen as the first true "workers' society" and naturally their story appealed to the communist propagandists in Russia. In the early days of the Soviet Union, Lenin allowed and even encouraged radical developments in the arts; and so a group of young idealistic filmmakers calling themselves The Factory of the Eccentric Actor took the tragic tale and turned it into a bizarre grotesquery mocking the forces of capitalism and materialism, with dance hall parodies and mugging in the style of Charlie Chaplin. The title, The New Babylon, refers to a department store/cabaret in Paris where much of the action takes place. I've not seen the film, but the description in the program notes makes the whole thing sound appalling. But then Shostakovich entered the project.

In 1929, Shostakovich was 23 years old and had just finished his absurdist opera The Nose. He had started his career as a pianist in silent film theatres; and so he was the perfect choice for composer of the film score to The New Babylon. The Nose is an eclectic score, combining contemporaneous art music techniques with folk song and cabaret; and in The New Babylon Shostakovich continued this radical approach. He sought not to reflect the action of the film in his music, but the inner story--thoughts and feelings of the characters, reflections on the past, and premonitions of events yet to come. At times the music is in direct contradiction with the images--but this will be lost on listeners to the CD, of course. What remains are two contrasting moods--the first full of zany madcap action as we leer lecherously through the windows of the New Babylon at the deviant, corrupt soul of capitalism; and the second a long, tragic lament for the lost souls of the Paris commune after their overthrow. It's all scored for a small chamber orchestra--Shostakovich originally wrote for 14 musicians, rather impractically, including string quintet and one each of the major wind instruments and a single percussionist; the basel sinfonietta expands the group to 18 players, with three percussionists. They appropriately keep the strings at one on a part--this was composed for a film theatre orchestra and Shostakovich never intended to use an entire symphonic string section. As such, a certain clarity of sound results, although some of the grandeur of Shostakovich's later symphonic writing is missing, but none of the expression and intense emotion.

Sadly, like the The Nose, The New Babylon was an immediate failure. Shostakovich's music was too difficult for the Russian cinema orchestras to play, his musical language too advanced for audiences at that time and place to appreciate; but most importantly the political climate had changed. No longer was the avante-garde encourage; instead, the new doctrine of Soviet Realism would loom menacingly over the arts until the death of Stalin. Rather than simply glorifying the birth of communism, The New Babylon came to be viewed as a covert criticiam of authority. Both The Nose and The New Babylon fell into obscurity, not to be revived for almost 50 years; even then the latter work remained incomplete. Mark Fitz-Gerald and the basel sinfonietta bring us the first recording of the complete score, with the original ending and many restored cuts forced by an early edit of the film. It's a wonderful work with wild, absurd, and sometimes tragic juxtapositions. Particularly moving is the music on the second disc--the sombre original ending and the scene in which a piano player is shot while playing Tchaikovsky were powerful moments, equal to the best Shostakovich. The basel sinfonietta are not, perhaps, the greatest collection of virtuosos to grace a stage--the Naxos marketing strategy is to keep the price point down by using lesser-known artists, and Mark Fitz-Gerald seems to be the conductor based primarily on the extensive musicological research he did into the piece, but nevertheless together they do a very good job in restoring it to life, and certainly it is better than the performances Shostakovich despaired at in Russia. I highly recommend this CD.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Authenticity at a Price 6 Dec. 2011
By Dmitri - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
The price of authenticity is not the actual price of this double CD which is quite modest. No, the authenticity at a price is the actual working size orchestra for the original film, the complete score with formerly "lost parts included," and the conductorship of Mr. Fitz-Gerald which is very good, but still not a Russian voice.

The Basel Sinfonietta is very good. It is a chamber-sized orchestra and in fact you can see them perform excerpts of the New Babylon by Shostakovich on Youtube for no expense whatsoever. What is most notably different in this original scoring is the use of only five string players. This substantially alters the balance of the orchestra and literally makes the strings sound smaller in comparison to everything else.

The lost parts of the work are also included in the final production. But the whole effect is to lose momentum from other recordings of the work. At times the piece literally runs out of steam.

This leads me to my third point which is the conductorship of Mark Fitz-Gerald. He may be good at reconstructing things and assembling a top notch band like the Basel Sinfonietta yet still there is wanting in the interpretation. It seems as though the score begs for more swager than he can muster.

So all in all I would call this Shostakovich New Babylon for the silent movie of the same name a limited success. It seems like a massive project that perhaps went beyond the scope of the participants by just a small margin. But a margin big enough to knock this down to a four star instead of five star rating.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
a "New" New Babylon 17 Feb. 2012
By Allen Cohen - Published on
Format: Audio CD
The world has certainly not lacked good recordings of Shostakovich's many efforts on behalf of the cinema. "The New Babylon", a silent 1929 Soviet polemic is no exception. There are (and have been) several versions. This Naxos release is unique, however. As the extensive liner notes so exhaustively recount, the protracted gestation of this remarkable score is complex. Suffice it to say that this new edition embodies the most authentic and arguably definitive incarnation of the composer's wishes. As he so vividly demonstrated with his previous Shostakovich film score outings, maestro Fitz-Gerald is "to the manner born' so to speak. The 20 odd players of the Basel Sinfonietta maneuver with relish through the multitude of rhythmic and coloristic twists and turns. Sonics are first rate: warm and detailed. A winner in every sense of the word.
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