Review By Nate,The Exhaustive Shostakovich,December 2010
Lev Arnshtam’s Girlfriends is another of Shostakovich’s early film collaborations available in its un-subtitled entirety on the Internet but I opted instead for the music without images, because I want to get to know Mark Fitz-Gerald’s disc and, with Love and Hatred and Maxim’s Youth in recent memory and still more films (the rest of the Maxim Trilogy!) looming ahead, I want to pace myself on the intriguing but also sort of tiresome act of watching a propagandistic, somewhat dated, frequently incomprehensible movie in discrete and sometimes slow-to-download chunks. Actually, between Maxim’s Youth and Girlfriends I may have picked the wrong one to watch in full, as this score—largely reconstructed
I’ll eventually need to watch the film, too, to take in the contrast between the vintage recording of the score and Fitz-Gerald’s thoroughly contemporary, clean-lined account. Based on the past films I’ve watched there’s a lot of charm in that older, warblier sound, but my tastes in vocal music are very much a product of my times, I think, and I appreciate the lucid, filigree-free (and, certainly, well engineered) solo and ensemble singing on the Naxos album:
Our enemy did not mock you,
At your death you were surrounded
By your own people, and we,
Your friends, closed your eagle eyes.
That excerpt (text translated by Anastasia Belina) comes from the revolutionary song “Tormented by a Lack of Freedom”, one of a couple such numbers that Shostakovich incorporated into the Girlfriends score and, notably for Shostakovich theme-spotters, one he much later worked into the emotionally searing medley of his eighth quartet. The film score actually has a more direct relationship to his string quartet writing: Music from the 1938 first quartet serves as the movie’s introduction, which seems uncanny until you read in the booklet essay (by John Riley, he of the ever-helpful film handbook) that the usage dates from a 1960s restoration. There is original quartet music in the film, though, sometimes augmented by other instruments, and it presents a view of the composer’s emerging