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DVD Review

Dmitri Shostakovich

Shostakovich Against Stalin

A Film by Barry Weinstein
  • Excerpts from:
  • Symphony #4 in C minor, Op. 43 (1936)
  • Symphony #5 in D minor, Op. 47 (1937)
  • Symphony #6 in B minor, Op. 54 (1939)
  • Symphony #7 "Leningrad" in C Major, Op. 60 (1941)
  • Symphony #8 in C minor, Op. 65 (1943)
  • Symphony #9 in E Flat Major, Op. 70 (1945)
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
Philips DVD 0743117 74m LPCM Stereo DTS
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When Larry Weinstein's film was presented at the Prague Festival, it not only caused a sensational reaction, but also stirred up a whirlwind of political debate. This DVD will certainly pulverise all those who view it, and I am in no doubt that it will churn up feelings of both revulsion and admiration.

The film analyzes and examines the harrowing theme of Stalin's bloody purges of the 30's and 40's and Shostakovich's musical response, which nearly cost him his life. The composer once said that the Fourth Symphony composed in 1932 and premièred only after Stalin's death in 1953 was his tombstone.

Luckily things did not turn out as Shostakovich predicted, but in resisting Stalin's tyranny the composer had to endure great suffering, both physical and psychological, and only some timely help and a fair amount of good sense, apart from his great courage, kept him from falling victim of the regime's relentless barbarity.

Shot in Moscow and St. Petersburg, this artist's struggle against oppression is reflected through personal recollections by many of his friends and his surviving daughter who, like him, lived the experience of those terrible years. Archive footage, particularly of Shostakovich himself, adds immeasurably to the wealth of this production.

The story unfolds against the backdrop of extracts from the War Symphonies (Nos. 4-9), which can be heard in the DVD Audio medium. A pivotal film of huge historical importance, carefully edited and inspiringly produced.

Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech