Shostakovich: The Bedbug (Naxos)

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Image result for Shostakovich: The Bedbug (Naxos)Whenever I hear music by the young Dmitri Shostakovich I am astonished all over again by his up-yours raw humour and ribaldry. This is a dazzling talent strutting his stuff in the first decade of a revolution when all seemed possible and available – jobs for all, free meals at work, free love. None foresaw that Stalin would soon crush the spark and the spirit out of the cultural side of the revolution.

The two unexpected world premieres on this release are compelling. The Bedbug was a comedy written by the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, for which Shostakovich wrote incidental music in 1928-9 at the behest of the theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold, whom the young composer revered. Rather than being trapped between two strong personalities Shostakovich, just 23, let rip with wild irreverence and invention. This is Hindemith in a torn t-shirt, Kurt Weill on coke and more than a dirty dash of Ernst Krenek, all mixed into a borscht that could not be more Russian and bloody rude.

The trombones should get overtime pay and there’s an instrument that sounds eerily like a Thereminovox. It could hardly be more cutting edge for the late 1920s or more cosmopolitan, yet the composer’s voice is never lost in his welter of influencers. The excellent orchestra is the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, and the Russian-singing chorus is from Mannheim.

The companion piece is music for a 1935 Soviet film, Love and Hate. Pieced together from fragments by the conductor Mark Fitz-Gerald, the score is a semi-house-trained Bedbug, the music looking over its own shoulder for approval. The next year Stalin cracked down on Shostakovich. The rest is history. This is a vital link in that history.

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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: frFrancais (French)

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Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review // Norman Lebrecht est un rédacteur prolifique couvrant les événements musicaux et Slipped Disc, est un des plus populaires sites de nouvelles culturelles. Il anime The Lebrecht Interview sur la BBC Radio 3 et collabore à plusieurs publications, dont The Wall Street Journal et The Standpoint. Vous pouvez lire ses critiques de disques chaque vendredi.

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