For those who know only the dark, sardonic, angst-ridden undertones of his string quartets and symphonies, it often comes as a surprise to some that Shostakovich was a master of lighter music as well. And since ballet music tends to comprise short, rhythmic and melodic sections, and since the ballet was the quintessential Russian theatrical art, it is no surprise that not only Shostakovich but most of his predecessors and contemporaries (think of Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Kabalevsky, Shchedrin and Gliere, to name only a few) wrote light, easily grasped, tuneful music for the form. And it is also no surprise that there is a lot of Russian ballet music that gets lost in the crowd. Such is the case with these ballet suites, uncreatively named Ballet Suites Nos. 1-4, which Shostakovich put together in 1949-1953 primarily for radio broadcast. They excerpt numbers from several of the composer's ballet scores, primary of which is 'The Limpid Stream,' which contributes eleven separate pieces distributed throughout the four suites. There are also a couple of well-known numbers from 'The Bolt,' which has been recorded by these same artists--the fine conductor Dmitry Yablonsky, and his impressive Russian Philharmonic Orchestra on a previous Naxos release available here at Amazon as ASIN B000063TS9. Other sources are 'The Human Comedy' (3 numbers), 'Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 1' (2), 'The Tale of a Priest and His Servant Balda' (1), 'Michurin' (1), and 'The Song of the Great Rivers' (1).
The suites contain wonderful Shostakovian waltzes, polkas, galops and more. The tone is generally light and carefree, but there is a meltingly beautiful Adagio from 'The Limpid Stream' that features the playing of conductor Yablonsky, a fine cellist, in a piece that reminds one of Saint-Saëns's 'The Swan.' Trumpeter Oleg Tolkathev shines in 'Sentimental Romance,' a piece that sounds for all the world like music by Kurt Weill at his ironic and world-weary best. Other highlights, for me, are the sweeping 'Lyric Waltz,' the insouciant 'Pizzicato Dance,' the music-boxy 'Waltz-scherzo,' 'Spring Waltz' with its akilter clarinet and trombone solos, and the grand 'Waltz' and perky 'Gavotte' from 'The Human Comedy.'
If you like Kabalevsky's 'The Comedians,' Khachaturian's 'Gayane,' or Gliere's 'Russian Sailors' Dance' from 'The Red Poppy,' you'll surely enjoy this release. The sound is lifelike, the playing infectious and brimming with high spirits.
on 31 March 2010
Tuneful, well-orchestrated, good recording, unmistakeably Shostakovitch - exactly what I wanted. The CD arrived very quickly, no hassle, inexpensive. What more could I ask?