Shostakovich: The Bedbug / Love and Hate (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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Norman Lebrecht’s new book Genius and Anxiety is available January 14, 2020. Pre-order here.