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As Shostakovich's story unfolds we witness the anarchic 1917 revolution [watch and listen -- chapter 6, 22:02-23:35]; fired by raucous exhortations of Lenin, the brooding (largely unspeaking) menace of Stalin (Terence Rigby), the German-Russian war (and siege of Leningrad), the 'old guard' politburo stranglehold following Stalin -- and much more.

The fervour, mob rule, panic, swords, guns, chaos and destructive force of revolution are superbly conveyed as churches are sacked, people trampled underfoot, and a youthful urchin falls while grasping for food spilt from a market stall.

Lenin is not represented among this cast list; his periodic appearances are solely from archival footage.

When Shostakovich first burst on the scene (before he was twenty) he was hugely successful, enjoying widespread popularity. He began working with all the famous Russian artists of his day: Meyerhold (Robert Stephens), Mayakovsky and Eisenstein. The early symphonies and his operas were performed throughout the land, to notable acclaim. Then, with the ascendancy of Stalin he was increasingly vilified. Stalin disliked the opera Lady Macbeth (1934); revised and renamed Katerina Ismailova (1962) -- and Pravda wrote that Shostakovich's music was mere cacophany. He was denounced and humiliated.

Sequence after sequence proves uncommonly memorable -- a secret meeting of Shostakovich with ill-fated Marshall Tukhachevsky (Ronald Pickup) by the desolate Russian-Finnish border; spartan composition classes with the inebriate Alexander Glazunov (Peter Woodthorpe); the Soviet Composer's Union congress where Shostakovich was compelled to publicly repent compositions decreed as failing to serve the state; even a hypothetical (final) exchange of thoughts between composer and dictator.

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Copyright © 26 August 2007 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


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