Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Shostakovich: Ballet Suites; Film Music (Maxim Shostakovich)

Shostakovich: Ballet Suites Nos.1 - 3 (arr. Atovmyan); Suites from the ballets The Golden Age and The Bolt; Suites from the film music for Zoya and Pirogov
Bolshoi Theater Chorus and Orchestra/Maxim Shostakovich
Veneziya CDVE 04350 | Stereo ADD (2 CDs)
MP3 @ 320 kbps | WAV+CUE (no scans included)

"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree"--or so the old saying goes. But what becomes of the apple when it languishes in the shadow of the tree? Being groomed to take over the family business is difficult enough. But never is it more difficult when the family business is headed by a patriarch who enjoys great fame and popularity. Just ask Soulima Stravinsky. Some--like the Bach boys or Johann Strauss, Jr.--are able to thrive and sometimes even outstrip their father in popularity and talent. Others are less lucky, consigned to being the Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozarts of the world. Some are able to make a distinguished name for themselves. Perhaps not matching the father in talent or ability, but still able to make a valuable contribution to the world. Maxim Shostakovich is one such musician.

During his youth, Maxim was a freewheeling sort who enjoyed going to parties and imbibing of spirits. Not the sort to dedicate himself singlemindedly to the family craft as was the wont of father Dmitri, Maxim was more comfortable hanging out with friends and listening to the latest American jazz--and a new musical genre known as "rock". Dmitri wasn't very pleased with this at all. Dmitri would complain to his friend, Isaak Glikman, over Maxim's eccentric behavior; his "vulgar" taste in music. Maxim's teachers and fellow students at the Moscow Conservatory weren't exactly brimming with praise for young Maxim. Rumors swirled at the Conservatory over Maxim's talent; how he passed his exams merely because of who his father was. There might be some truth to that. After all, the piano part for the Piano Concerto No.2 or the Concertino for Two Pianos--both pieces written expressly for Maxim--aren't exactly knuckle-busting, virtuoso showpieces.

In the end, it was as a conductor that he would make his fame. He would study under Nikolai Anosov, the father of Gennady Rozhdestvensky. According to the reminiscences of people who knew both Dmitri and his son, Maxim barely passed his final exams, and even then only through the reputation of his surname. Soon after graduating, Maxim was hired by the USSR Symphony Orchestra as one of its guest conductors. At the USSR Symphony, Maxim began applying himself harder and began to take his career seriously. He eventually earned the praise of his father for his fine performances of Mahler's symphonies. Maxim was eventually entrusted with the first performance of his father's Symphony No.15--and he was equal to the task. His Melodiya recording of the symphony, still unavialble on CD today (but easily obtainable thanks to Maready's transfer over at his High Pony Tail Blog), is still the one to beat. Maxim would go on to make some good recordings of his father's music--including a powerful and bracing interpretation of the Symphony No.5. He even recorded works by other composers, including Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and his father's friend, Weinberg. Since his defection to the west in 1981, Maxim has made a solid reputation for himself as an interpreter of his father's music. His recent Supraphon cycle of Dmitri's symphonies was very satisfying, with some knock-out performances of Symphonies Nos.1, 6, 9, and 15. At his best, Maxim is an unfussy conductor of his father's music. Never one to dawdle over certain passages or pull taffy with tempi, Maxim's interpretations are clear and direct. Much, I like to think, how his father would've wanted it.

This 2 CD set of Shostakovich's Ballet Suites and film music is a treasure. If you have yet to hear the Ballet Suites, do give this a listen. This is Shostakovich at his most genial and witty. Much credit must be given to the man who compiled and arranged these suites: Levon Atovmyan. Atovmyan is the man responsible for not only arranging these ballet Suites. He also arranged most of Shostakovich's film scores into concert suites. As much as I love Shostakovich's original work, these Atovmyan arrangements are even better. Much of the material used in the Ballet Suites was salvaged from one of Shostakovich's most unipsired works, the ballet The Limpid Stream. Comparing the original ballet numbers against Atovmyan's versions makes for some interesting listening. Atovmyan was able to polish to very pretty gleam material that was uncharacteristically opaque and bland for Shostakovich. Aside from producing more sparkling orchestrations, Atovmyan modified much of his material extensively, transposing and rearranging works as he saw fit. Listening to Shostakovich's originals, this was no small task for Atovmyan. Shostakovich himself took note and approved of Atovmyan's arrangements.

The suites from the ballets The Golden Age and The Bolt are Shostakovich's own original work. These suites need no introduction as they are very well known to concert audiences. Some curious modification of the orchestration is audible in the Polka from The Golden Age. But the music's goofy humor still shines through.

Shostakovich's love/hate relationship with writing music for film is well known. But listening to these brilliant film suites, one could hardly tell that he rarely enjoyed his work in film. Shostakovich's film music is gaining wider acceptance these days and rightfully so. This is the composer at his crowd pleasing best: bright orchestrations, beautiful melodies, evocative moods, and his trademark wit abound here. Especially lovely is the waltz from the film Pirogov. Also a stunning piece is the swirling, perpetuum mobile scherzo from that same film. In a way, these film scores, while not Shostakovich at his most daring or profound, show of some of the most appealing aspects of his musicianship. Many another composer would have settled for just phoning-in a bland soundtrack. But Shostakovich, despite his misgivings about film work, treated his tasks with total professionalism, producing music of great vibrancy and color.

This recording of his father's ballet and film music has some of the best qualities that Maxim brings to his father's music. It is clear-cut, propulsive, but without ever feeling pushed. He simply lets the music flow from him, all the while keeping the music's corners nicely starched. Granted, this isn't music that requires extraordinary depth from a performer or taxing virtuosity from an orchestra. While some may prefer a little more nuance in these pieces, Maxim's directness is very enjoyable. Fans of the old Soviet orchestras will find much to enjoy here. The brass vibrato on these recordings is as wide as the old Soviet Union itself. The Russian players' ensemble is also a bit unruly, but they make ample amends with their sheer panache.

This set from the Russian label Veneziya is sadly unavialable in America and, I believe, Western Europe. Veneziya's transfers are no-nonsense transfers that--for better or worse--replicate with fidelity the eccentric engineering of the original Melodiya tapes. Climaxes can be painful to listen as the sound tends to break up at those points.

For sheer beauty of sound and ensemble, Neeme Järvi's classic Chandos recordings of the Ballet Suites are a must have. But for the collector and Shostakovich enthusiast, there is much here to enjoy. A very fascinating document of warts-and-all Soviet era music making.

Maxim Shostakovich interviewing his father; rehearsing for the premiere of his father's Symphony No.15.


  1. LOSSY (MP3 @ 320 kbps)

    Disc 1

    Disc 2

  2. These recordings were available during the 1990's on BMG/Melodiya (given the cowboy nature of the Russian CD industry, I wouldn't be surprised if these are the same transfers). It's nice to see them again.

    Venezia (or Veneziya) is a bit of a mystery. It seems to be a Russian label, but none of the eBay CD sellers based in Russia offer them, although they do offer about a dozen other labels offering former Melodiya recordings. I have not seen them offered for sale anywhere but HMV Japan.

    It's a shame, because they have issued some great stuff. Thanks to Venezia, I own Gennadi Rozhdestvensky's Sibelius and Prokofiev symphony cycles, neither of which has ever made it to CD on any Melodiya variant, so far as I know. Whoever they are, I hope they keep it up.

  3. I've bought a few Venezia (or Veneziya if one is transliterating directly from the Cyrillic) CDs. They're all excellent. I've got a few more that I'll be posting up in the near future. ;)

  4. I was really looking forward to this - but:
    The last mp3 file ( is the same as the fe first wave file (, and when I downloaded the wave files for disc one, part 2 was missing -- result, cannot create the complete wave file.

  5. @Brent

    My apologies for that! Here is the correct like for the first part of the lossless CD 1:

  6. I was able to download all the lossless CD 2. They're wonderful! I've known (and loved) the Ballet Suites from an old MHS cassette.

    Thanks for getting on this so quickly. However, the missing link is the one for the 2nd part of the lossless CD 1.

  7. @Brent

    Sorry again! -_-

    Part 2, CD1:

  8. I do appreciate your help. Yes, that was the right file, but after downloading when I tried to open all the .rar CD1 files I got error messages (using "extract files" on 7-Zip about 89M of the wave file opened).

  9. @Brent

    Can you please post for me the error message you received? Thank you.

  10. I use 7-Zip, and however I use it (Open archive, Extract files, Test archive, etc.) I get the following error message:
    Data error in 'Shostakovich - Ballet Suites and Film Music - Maxim Shostakovich [Disc 1]\Shostakovich Ballets and F...

  11. @Brent

    can you please post the full message? I need to know what or where the error is so I may upload the correct file. Thank you.

  12. Thank you so much for your patience! I finally got it to work. As it turns out, I noticed the size of the first file was smaller than the other files (I must have experienced one of Mediafire's hiccups), so I re-downloaded it and got the entire file this time. It now unzips just fine. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  13. @Brent

    Not a problem! I'm happy everything is well with the file. Enjoy the music! :)

  14. Greetings. I invite you to my music blog, but it's written in Spanish... I have read an invitation in that language posted by the author of this blog...