Shostakovich: "The Jazz Album" [British Decca]

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Shostakovich: "The Jazz Album" [British Decca]

Post by Lance » Sun Jan 22, 2006 2:55 am

~ Mini-Review ~

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
"The Jazz Album"
Jazz Suite No. 1
Piano Concerto #1 in c, Op. 35

Ronald Brautigam, piano
Peter Massuers, trumpet
Jazz Suite No. 2 (Suite for Promenade Orchestra)
Tahiti Trot (Tea for Two)

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Riccardo Chailly, conductor
Decca (England) 433.702, 58:33, DDD

Shostakovich: the enigma. Like George Gershwin (to some degree), Shostakovich could produce music that was, on the one hand, highly entertaining, full of rhythm and harmony, and on the other hand, create enormous, deeply-felt music in his symphonies, chamber works, instrumental sonatas, and his Second Piano Concerto.

The CD in discussion was [i/]Gramophone[/i] magazine's "choice," with the following note:"Colorful, Chaplinesque ... the playing here is quite superb ... good-humoured, affectionate and utterly professional. [Chailly's] Royal Concertgebouw players sound at home in every bar and the recording is both clean and ambient." (Good CD Guide.)

I have always been of the opinion that you either like Shostakovich's works or you don't. But what's not to like on the present CD? Even those who are somehow offended by Shostakovich's compositional skills and harmonies will find favourable, enjoyable music on this disc, which was uniquely put together, though I'm not totally sure why the First Piano Concerto would be included. If Shostakovich had written the Gershwin Piano Concerto in F, then I might understand its inclusion better.

There are many recordings available of the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 1, and here it is given a superlative reading by everyone involved. It was originally recorded in Amsterdam in 1988 and seeming received little publicity. The Jazz Suites and the Tahiti Trot were recorded in Amsterdam in 1990 and 1991. The disc at hand was originally published by Decca/London in 1993.

So why would anyone write about it now? Because some folk—like yours truly, I readily and shamefully admit—have only recently made the discovery of some of this music with this particular CD issue. Had I know I woud have enjoyed the music hereon as much as I have, the disc would have been on my shelves much sooner than now. Don't make my mistake! I have never been a huge fan of Shostakovich's music except for both piano concertos, the Fifth Symphony, the Gatby music, the Piano Trio No. 2, and a few other works. Basically, I still feel the same way, except that now I add the two Jazz Suites, and the delightful Tahiti Trot (Tea for Two).

Vincent Youman's "Tea for Two?" What could Shostakovich have to do with this popular little melody? It was due to the Russian conductor, Nikolai Malko, who made a bet in 1928 to test Shostakovich's skills. Shostakovich was challenged to orchestrate "Tea for Two" in the space of 60 minutes. He set to work immediatley and in two-thirds the time (40 minutes), he produced his witty and original orchestration that became the rage of Russia, and it was the Russians who called the piece "Tahiti Trot."

Shostakovich, being the musically curious person that he was, would frequently attend concerts given by visiting jazz musicians. He found himself enormously delighted with a jazz band that he heard accompanying a "Negro operetta" as early as 1925. The political powers-to-be in Russia, however, regarded jazz music as being suspicious; they were thus hostile towards jazz, believing it to be decadent to Russian society and culture. As early as 1934, Shostakovich made attempts to write his music in a jazz idiom. His idea was to raise Russian jazz music from café-style music to a professional level. A competition was created in Leningrad, and to have others join with him in writing jazz music, Shostakovich created his Jazz Suite No. 1, consisting of three dance titles: Waltz, Polka, Foxtrot. The suite lasts about eight brief minutes. But more was to come!

The Second Jazz Suite consists of more dance names, only more of them coming in with eight sections. The Second Suite takes its roots from Vienna and the music of Johann Strauss, which points its way more forwardly towards the Red Army.

Over all, on one disc we have an opportunity to hear the "lighter" size, or "jazzy" side of one of Russia's great composers of the twentieth century. Diversified he was, and when it all comes off as brilliantly as what is heard on this disc, your opinion of Shostakovich may go up by several notches. First rate music, first rate orchestra, conductor and performers. It may offer you some new roads into truly entertaining recorded listening.
Lance G. Hill

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]


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Post by hautbois » Tue Jan 24, 2006 1:36 pm

Bought this CD two years ago, and it wasnt even jazz! (the young classical listener back then i.e. me was so surprised to have bought a so called "jazz-album", and while discovering that it wasnt, fell in love with the light orchestral idiom.) Nothing beats this CD when you want to get off some rather heavy orchestral music. Its enjoyable over and over again. Highly recommendable.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Tue Jan 24, 2006 2:55 pm

hautbois wrote: fell in love with the light orchestral idiom
What else do like in this category, Haut?
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Post by hautbois » Wed Jan 25, 2006 7:46 am

Some Johann Strauss? But i honestly must say that i am pretty much fed up with the Vienna Philharmonic new year concerts, simple because IT IS a NEW YEAR concert :P , with its standard Strauss repertoire. Probably stuff by Koehne, and sometimes film music. I have never really studied what goes into the 'light orchestra idiom', and but i have heard of tons of enjoyable music which does not have long adagios or pesante bla bla sections nor represents anything deep in interpretation. All good music is appealing to me, and there is no particular discrimination. Sometimes music is just made for entertainment, and i have never ever doubted that.

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Post by DavidRoss » Wed Jan 25, 2006 8:57 am

I like this disc very much--both the jazz suites and the piano concerto. I don't consider it "light orchestral," as music in a class with Strauss waltzes. The only thing light about it, to me, is the light-heartedness of the music, especially in comparison with the anguish and sarcasm that permeates so much of his later work. Listening to youthful works like this or Lady MacBeth, I wonder what might have been if Stalinism hadn't crushed Shosty's joyful spirit.
"Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." ~Leo Tolstoy

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Jan 25, 2006 9:08 am

hautbois wrote:Bought this CD two years ago, and it wasnt even jazz!
Shocked, I am shocked! :-)
Karl Henning, PhD
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston, Massachusetts
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Post by rogch » Wed Jan 25, 2006 11:13 am

The paradox is that the piano concerto sounds more "jazzy" than the "jazz-suites". But i don't mind that. It is an album full of charm, beautifully played by the Concertgebauw and Chailly. The Consertgebauw Orchestra and Chailly are often taken for granted, aren't they? They often get good reviews, but their recordings are seldom mentioned as the recording to get of a work.
Roger Christensen

"Mozart is the most inaccessible of the great masters"
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Post by hautbois » Wed Jan 25, 2006 11:49 pm

They don't exactly do a lot of publicity, and i guess nowadays with so many interpretations on the shelf its hard to decide on which ones the best and so forth. Well at least for me, Kondrashin with the Concertgebouw on Scheherazade ,the Shostakovich album mentioned, Beethoven 5th and 6th with Chailly conducting, remain as some of my best loved recordings. And there are tons of others worth mentioning, but don't get the Mahlers, i mean not all of them, i heard 9th is good with Chaily. And 6th with Bernstein is the most awesome recording i have heard in years. Check them out.


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