Opus 30a: The Golden Mountains, Suite (1931)

The Golden Mountains, suite, op. 30a (1931)
CD:  “Dmitri Shostakovich: Orchestral Works”, Nicolai Stepanov (Hawaiian guitar), Ludmila Golub (organ), USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra, Gennady Rozhdestvensky (BMG/Melodiya 74321 59058 2)

Sergei Yutkevich’s The Golden Mountains lacks a DVD release, so the concert suite will have to do for Shostakovich’s third film score.  The plot, according to John Riley, focuses on the political awakening of a young worker during a 1914 factory strike.  He notes too that the composer penned a widely popular title song which he decided for whatever reason to leave out of the suite.

The orchestral music that is here ranges in style but fits within the stylistic circle described by the works of the late 1920s and early 1930s that I’ve listened to so far.  The short Introduction opens the suite with a thick spreading of musical cream cheese, a fanfare close to what would become his mature light-music style, friendly to audiences and officials alike.  The Waltz that follows it is easy on the ears, too, though right away it’s more notable for its unpredictable use of a Hawaiian guitar to introduce its first theme:

The waltz, per Riley, is used in the film to satirize the bourgeois industrialists, but it’s characteristically catchy and, unlike some of Shostakovich’s more snide dance numbers in The Golden Age and elsewhere, there are few signs of mockery within the music itself.  Rather, once the waltz hits its full stride, it sounds like gleeful music for a trapeze act:

The eight-minute fugue that follows it, for a pipe organ eventually joined by the orchestra, is much chewier.  It bears a strong family resemblance to the funereal passacaglia from Act 2 of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, especially in that Shostakovich transcribed that selection for organ sometime in the early thirties:

Both, too, take a stern-faced approach to a baroque form, more striking for their instrumental gigantism than for formal tightness.

The suite ends with an atmospheric Funeral March that leads into a bigger, louder Finale; the very end of the the third symphony is grafted on as a coda, in a coarse-grained and not particularly seamless instance of Shostakovich’s self-borrowing.

The Golden Mountains music reminds me of that for The Bedbug in its loopiness and instrumental novelty.  This two-disc Rozhdestvensky reissue continues to be both pleasantly surprising and weird.  (Derek Hulme lists Rozhdestvensky’s recording of the suite as complete, although it seems either to be missing an Intermezzo or to have rolled it up into another track.)  One particular oddity / pleasure is the audio engineering of these Melodiya studio recordings of the late 1970s and early ’80s — their sound palette has the same, slightly unnatural quality of old color film stock, a little bit washed out in places and preternaturally intense in others, particularly in some cases of overly prominent percussion instruments.  It’s all good fun; I think I enjoy this suite more for chipping at the edges of my expectations of what Shostakovich’s music sounds like than for anything directly in the music itself.

Opus 30a:  The Golden Mountains, Suite (1931)

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