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Shostakovich: New Babylon, film score (first complete recording)

Album Summary

>Shostakovich, Dmitri : New Babylon (The Assault on Heaven), film score for live performance with silent film, Op. 18
Conductor Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

This recording of New Babylon, one of Shostakovich's most inventive and truly symphonic film scores, is the first complete recording of all the surviving music from the original 'lost' manuscript full score and the first to use five solo string players only, as conceived by the composer. A remarkable collage of marches, can-cans, carnival music, tumultuous rhythms and musical quotations, New Babylon bristles with witty dissonance and brassy ebullience, emphasizing the film's content rather than its visual surface. Mark Fitz-Gerald's two previous Naxos world première recordings of Shostakovich's film scores for Alone (8.570316) and The Girlfriends (8.572138) have been highly acclaimed. Described as "one of the indispensable Shostakovich interpreters of our time", Mark Fitz-Gerald has performed the Trauberg/Shostakovich classic New Babylon (1929) to great critical acclaim, in particular at the Japanese première of the work (opening concert of the Tokyo Summer Festival in 2000) and the Rotterdam Gergiev Festival 2001.

"[The New Babylon] was the last gasp of this anything-goes era, and boasted a blistering score by the 22-year-old Shostakovich. So blistering, in fact, that nobody could perform it, and it was “lost” for decades...it is sardonic, brittle and laden with saucy Offenbach quotes. But two discs’ worth of dazzling freneticism is too much." -The Times

BBC Music Magazine
Fitz-Gerald uses his own edition of the score, prepared after careful research. The joy of it lies in the light instrumentation of 18 players, mostly one to a part, which adds new clarity to a varied score offering plenty of signposts to the Shostakovich to come. There's also the novelty of 130 extra bars - four new minutes of bitter music for the film's original ending, subsequently cut.

With this album we already have almost everything can be arranged in connection with one of the great Soviet films of the twenties and one of the best music written for silent films.

The music sounds clear and crisp as a result and much more like a chamber work. One is struck at how brilliant the entire ensemble does sound however and the recording equally aids this process with proper sound imaging... the members of the Basel Sinfonietta are simply fantastic in this performance with clean articulation and a real sense for how this music connects with the style... Naxos' superb early film music releases and is not to be missed... this and the earlier release are worth adding to your collection as they present two valid and well-crafted performances of this fascinating early Shostakovich score.

San Francisco Classical Voice
there's something for everyone in this music. If you don't like the mood now, it'll change in the next minute. Throughout, Shostakovich's orchestration is brilliant, and the Basel Sinfonietta plays it all under Fitz-Gerald's sure direction with unflagging dedication and precision, with an ear to the crisp bite and unpredictable moodiness that the composer obviously wants. Blaring trumpets, wailing clarinet, caustic violin, a large battery of sometimes surprising percussion - and their startling opposites in coy gentleness from the same instruments - all stand out, while mixing into a coherent ensemble. It's hard not to sense that Shostakovich's honest original voice is speaking here...

International Record Review
this superbly performed rendition by the Basel Sinfonietta conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald, enhanced by vividly realistic sound and extensive booklet notes from four Shostakovich specialists, makes the strongest case for a score that, in terms of the film medium, its composer equalled only rarely and which he arguably never surpassed.

BBC Music Magazine
Curdled can-cans; minced marches; wobbly waltzes; acrid quotes from Offenbach and the French Revolution: Shostakovich presses them together in a collage alternately dizzy and desolate, spiritedly performed by Mark Fitz-Gerald and the Basel Sinfonietta. Fitz-Gerald uses his own edition of the score, prepared after careful research. The joy of it lies in the light instrumentation for 18 players.

This lively and engaging performance by Mark Fitz-Gerald leading the Basel Sinfonietta is its first complete recording. The music shows Shostakovich at his most giddy, whimsical, and irreverent. Its stream of consciousness development is constantly inventive and intriguing; this is a recording that's likely to be of strong interest to the composer's fans.

The Basel Sinfonietta are superb. The music is rhythmically complex and filled with some pretty grotesque passages, but the ensemble is always polished and precise. Conductor Mark Fitz-Gerald steers the group through the thorniest passages while maintaining a solid sense of pace and continuity. The sound quality is very high end. The brass and percussion have a punch that is thrilling while strings and winds have warmth. The Naxos Film Music Classics series has been consistently excellent, but with New Babylon and other Shostakovich scores (Odna, The Fall of Berlin and The Girlfriends) it has become indispensible.

The most notable difference from earlier versions of James Judd (Capriccio, 1990) and Frank Strobel (Haenssler Classics, 2006) is the use of the original formation of fourteen musicians, which corresponds to the size of the orchestra pits of theaters Leningrad. This limited training under the baton of a precise, vivid Mark Fitz-Gerald broke in the performance of film music in concert, this partition restores important in the history of cinema, its salt and its original colors.

MusicWeb International
We are indeed fortunate that both survived so we can hear what is certainly an outstandingly brilliant, witty, poignant and altogether wonderfully inventive score. It is immediately obvious that Shostakovich was already a creative genius whose abilities and style were already formed by that early age.

MusicWeb International
To my mind one of Naxos' finest ever discs. Superb music making allied to a seriously impressive scholarly reconstruction of a very important score. Topped off with ideal engineering and as interesting a booklet as you will currently read. Petrenko might be taking the Shostakovich headlines just now but this is ultimately the more important release.

MusicWeb International
Having heard only excerpts before, this recording of the complete score for New Babylon came as a revelation. I really need add little to Nick Barnard's very detailed and appreciative review of this latest in the fine Naxos series of Shostakovich's film music. The recording still sounds very well in the inevitably slightly limited mp3 format.

The Northern Echo
A world premiere recording of the complete score of New Babylon, one of the Shostakovich's most inventive and truly symphonic film scores. Mark Fitz-Gerald conducting the Basel Sinfonietta presents this fascinating collage of marches, can-cans, carnival music and tumultuous rhythms.

MusicWeb International
Fitz-Gerald conducts the Basel Sinfonietta and they prove to be stunningly fine collaborators.

La Scena Musicale
The first complete recording, on two CDs, on the 1929 film score has more than curiosity value. It affords a rare glimpse of the composer as a youthful mischief, before Stalin and the system contrived to crush his spirit. ... a necessary addition to my shelf.

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Volkshaus, Basel, Switzerland (05/01/2011-05/03/2011).


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Works Details

>Shostakovich, Dmitri : New Babylon (The Assault on Heaven), film score for live performance with silent film, Op. 18
  • Conductor: Mark Fitz-Gerald
  • Ensemble: Basel Sinfonietta
  • Notes: Volkshaus, Basel, Switzerland (05/01/2011-05/03/2011)
  • Running Time: 9 min. sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Written: 1928-1929