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As Shostakovich's story unfolds we witness the anarchic 1917
[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.
Copyright © 26 August 2007
Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand