Posts Tagged ‘Mark Fitz-Gerald’

Opus 44: Salute to Spain (1936)

January 26, 2011

Salute to Spain, op. 44 (1936)
CD:  Various soloists, Camerata Silesia, The Katowice City Singers’ Ensemble, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mark Fitz-Gerald (Naxos 8.572138)

Salute to Spain is another of Shostakovich’s insubstantial incidental scores, about ten minutes long, including two revolutionary songs that were incorporated alongside it into the production (arranged for chorus by Mark Fitz-Gerald on the Naxos disc).  In the context of Shostakovich’s career it’s mainly notable, and deserving of some generosity, as one of the first works he produced as a persona non grata of the Soviet state, as he worked to reestablish a very much uncertain career.

His music for the play, a rapid theatrical response to the Spanish Civil War, has very little flavor of Spain in it (save perhaps for a couple of vaguely “Spanish” chords), although there is no doubt that the USSR is doing the saluting.  Shostakovich’s contribution consists largely of brassy fanfares and suitably tragic/optimistic songs, more in line with his plain-faced cinema scores than his theater works to this point; the light puckishness of, for example, Rule, Brittania! is shelved, and I fear that the zanier style of The Bedbug is gone for good after this point in his output.

Salute to Spain‘s final funeral march does have a little bit of weight, plus a faint leering quality that seems to point back to Mahler’s first symphony, via Shostakovich’s own (then suppressed) fourth.  You can also hear in it, if you want, a trace of the grotesque bombast that the composer twists around on itself in the finale of his soon-to-be-written fifth symphony.

David Fanning’s album note draws a connection to Elena Konstantinovskaya, whose marriage-threatening affair with Shostakovich had just ended when she moved to Spain with the filmmaker Roman Karmen, adding personal misery to his professional and political trouble and perhaps creating an unhappy association with that nation.  The music remains pretty flimsy but there is something expressive in that final march, as though the occassion of theatrical tragedy gives Shostakovich an opening to express a little bit of more private darkness.


Opus 41a: Girlfriends (1935)

December 6, 2010

Girlfriends, op. 41a (1935)
CD:  Various soloists, Camerata Silesia, The Katowice City Singers’ Ensemble, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mark Fitz-Gerald (Naxos 8.572138)

Lev Arnshtam’s Girlfriends is another of Shostakovich’s early film collaborations available in its un-subtitled entirety on the Internet but I opted instead for the music without images, because I want to get to know Mark Fitz-Gerald’s disc and, with Love and Hatred and Maxim’s Youth in recent memory and still more films (the rest of the Maxim Trilogy!) looming ahead, I want to pace myself on the intriguing but also sort of tiresome act of watching a propagandistic, somewhat dated, frequently incomprehensible movie in discrete and sometimes slow-to-download chunks.  Actually, between Maxim’s Youth and Girlfriends I may have picked the wrong one to watch in full, as this score — largely reconstructed from the original film soundtrack by Fitz-Gerald — is the richer and more varied one, a mix of chamber music, large orchestra work, novel solo instruments, and revolutionary song.  As in The Golden Mountains, Shostakovich deploys a pipe organ, in a voluntary accompanied by brass instruments that heralds the 1919 civil war; as in Alone, Shostakovich makes a rare use of the theremin, in an unstable rendition of the Internationale, then the Soviet national anthem, that plays as the titular girlfriends (serving as nurses) and some wounded soldiers flee from the enemy by train.  Whether the effect is more comical or unsettling in the film I don’t yet know, but in its pure audio form the electronic solo wavers neatly between the two:

I’ll eventually need to watch the film, too, to take in the contrast between the vintage recording of the score and Fitz-Gerald’s thoroughly contemporary, clean-lined account.  Based on the past films I’ve watched there’s a lot of charm in that older, warblier sound, but my tastes in vocal music are very much a product of my times, I think, and I appreciate the lucid, filigree-free (and, certainly, well engineered) solo and ensemble singing on the Naxos album:

Our enemy did not mock you,
At your death you were surrounded
By your own people, and we,
Your friends, closed your eagle eyes.

That excerpt (text translated by Anastasia Belina) comes from the revolutionary song “Tormented by a Lack of Freedom”, one of a couple such numbers that Shostakovich incorporated into the Girlfriends score and, notably for Shostakovich theme-spotters, one he much later worked into the emotionally searing medley of his eighth quartet.  The film score actually has a more direct relationship to his string quartet writing:  Music from the 1938 first quartet serves as the movie’s introduction, which seems uncanny until you read in the booklet essay (by John Riley, he of the ever-helpful film handbook) that the usage dates from a 1960s restoration.  There is original quartet music in the film, though, sometimes augmented by other instruments, and it presents a view of the composer’s emerging chamber music sound, as well as the expressiveness of his general middle-period style:

All in all it’s a fine forty-five minutes of music.  I expect its joys would be diminished outside the context of Shostakovich’s career and the music, designed to coexist with moving images without overwhelming them, suffers on its own as most film scores do (I learned this phenomenon well enough from playing John Williams’ official Jurassic Park soundtrack CD over and over at a tender age), but it very much supports Riley’s thesis that Shostakovich’s cinematic work deserves more credit and attention than it usually gets.  If nothing else, the ties between it and his string quartets — that most respected, intimate, consistently high-quality body of Shostakovich’s work — puts the lie to the idea that his film music can all be dismissed as perfunctory, politically expedient stuff.  It’s a neat facet of his compositional personality to get to know, all these years after becoming so deeply attached to his music.

Opus 28: Rule, Britannia! (1931)

October 6, 2010

Rule, Britannia!, op. 28 (1931) (Reconstructed by Mark Fitz-Gerald)
Camerata Silesia, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mark Fitz-Gerald (Naxos 8.572138)

After considering a couple of hour-plus productions on DVD — and, more exhaustingly, struggling with my ad hoc, open-source video extraction methodology, prone to obscure software glitches and pervasive frame rate errors — it’s a relief to handle eight minutes of incidental music on CD. Granted, I find little to say stylistically about the existing incidental numbers for Rule, Britannia!, an apparently long-lost play by Adrian Piotrovsky about communist agitation in the West, as reconstructed by Mark Fitz-Gerald. It’s clear, practical, functional music for theater in a lighter, more jovial version of the First of May symphony’s language. “The Internationale” is unfurled (according to John Riley’s survey of Shostakovich’s film music, the onetime Soviet national anthem was a longstanding, easily emblematic go-to in the composer’s scores); in presumably dramatic numbers (“Protest”, “Raising the Banner”) the music stirs up the necessary tension on demand.

Most of what jumped at me from these tracks did so in connection with more substantial Shostakovich works. A few moments of lower, tension-building music resemble similar atmospheric sections of the Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk score, a work in progress in 1931; in particular a swinging figure in the clarinet recalls the scene in which Katerina and Sergei dispose of her husband’s body. (I don’t know whether the choice of instrument in this case is Shostakovich’s or Fitz-Gerald’s; if the latter I suspect he had the opera somewhere in mind.)  And the opening figure of the “Infantry March”, for those hopelessly attuned to such things, has the same shape as the brutish main motif of the tenth symphony’s second movement (if you want to fast-forward a bit, YouTube offers Gustavo Dudamel’s rock-star performance of it with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, though I’m still keeping myself from listening ahead), although the incidental track goes piping off in another direction entirely:

The play gets a spirited choral finale too — nothing too grand here, but I like the playful treatment of the word “proletariat” (eleven seconds in) and the repetitions of “red front”:

March, march!
The banners are calling us to the last fight, proletariat!
We will not believe the songs and tales of liars!
The bullets of fascists will not stop us.
Let them threaten us from everywhere.
Red front! Red front! Red front!

(English translation by Anastasia Belina, from the album’s notes.)

I don’t know where Shostakovich’s original instrumentation survives and where Fitz-Gerald’s reorchestration of the piano score kicks in, but the whole sounds clean — I like the jangly presence of the piano — and the recorded performance is briskly executed, with crisp choral work by the Camerata Silesia. I’m looking forward to going through the rest of the obscure material on this album (all recently reconstituted by Fitz-Gerald) though my guess is it’s necessary for enthusiasts only. Getting to know some of the composer’s early ballet and theater work, I find, provides a good sense of where his musical career was in his twenties; the smaller fragments of his output, however, are in themselves inessential.