Dmitri Shostakovich was versatile and smart like a fox, composing music that often blurred the dividing line between serious and sardonic. That and above all, his sheer genius helped him survive the ups and downs of his professional life under Stalin.

My friend, the late Michael Einhorn, played in the percussion section of the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra in concerts that featured in several instances the music of Shostakovich, with the composer himself in attendance during rehearsals. I remember Michael telling me how he once witnessed the composer being questioned by a Soviet music inspector about the validity of his music as pure and hopefully not influenced by western decadence. Shostakovich had to save himself from being sent to Siberia with a one-way ticket by playing the fool, giving non-sequitur musicological replies to the politically-loaded questions.

The extraordinary creative gifts of Shostakovich allows him to achieve intense dramatic poignancy in the Adagio from the Golden Age Suite and then turn on a kopek and tickle us to musical death with the Polka that follows it.   

In this fun BIS CD (BIS-2472) of Soviet-era “pop”-style music by Shostakovich, Andrew Litton and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra have a ball exploring the nose-thumbing side of the composer with the 1934 Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 1, written for a competition of works of ‘Soviet Jazz,’ which Litton conducts from the piano

The ballet The Age of Gold – about the adventures of a Soviet football team visiting the decadent West (no kidding) and The Limpid Stream, a musical-choreographic portrayal of a group of entertainers visiting an idyllic collective farm are also included in the CD.

The Suite for Variety Orchestra is an all but the kitchen sink compilation that the composer made in the late 1950s from three film scores, a ballet movement and four piano pieces.  And then there is Vincent Youmans’ Tea for Two, orchestrated by Shostakovich as Tahiti Trot!

Rafael de Acha (c) 2022

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