By the time Dmitri Shostakovich’s three-act ballet, “The Bolt,”
premiered in 1931 in Leningrad, this twenty-something
composer had achieved an impressive mastery of skills when
writing for the orchestral medium. These skills are clearly
evident in this 1994 recording by the Royal Stockholm
Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Gennady
Rozhdestvensky (1931- ). Apparently, this was the first
recording of the complete score, and many of Shostakovich’s
stylistic earmarks were present; i.e., the sardonic humor,
the sense of burlesque and irony, etc.
Unfortunately, the subject matter was based on the
“Theme of Labour,” which was adapted from a libretto by
Viktor Smirnov*. It was therefore set in a factory, which
commonly occurred in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. The setting
of this work wasn’t unfortunate; however, Shostakovich (1906-1975)
and Smirnov chose to treat this subject with the aforementioned
sense of humor and irony, and “The Bolt” was branded as
“depraved and unsuccessful” by the Soviet critics. As a result,
the work was immediately pulled from the active repertoire and
not published. This form of censorship was common in
Soviet Russia, and Shostakovich was one of the composers
who suffered the most under the regime.
Excerpts from the ballet were performed and enthusiastically
received by the public and Shostakovich’s composer colleagues,
which was a testament to the quality of this music. However,
to receive these endorsements, the music had to be divorced
from its original subject matter. Looking back at this now, it all
seems so silly that the powerful censors in Russia could be so
“uptight” about what seems to me like a bit of harmless fun
from Shostakovich; however, the authorities didn’t see it that
way at the time.
At any rate, the complete score wasn’t recorded until 1994,
as I mentioned above. All I can say is, “Better late than never!”
This two and one-half hour work is filled with wonderful music
which should justifiably be heard, as opposed to mere excerpts.
Who better to bring this work to light than Maestro Rozhdestvensky?
He not only knew the composer, but was (and still is) intimately
acquainted with the political challenges that were faced by
Soviet artists. This recording with the Royal Stockholm
Philharmonic Orchestra does full justice to the score, and I can’t
imagine a better rendition. It was also well recorded by the
engineers at Chandos, and I highly recommend it. Next, I’d like
to hear their recording of the complete Shostakovich ballet,
“The Golden Age!”
*Please note that the librettist Viktor Smirnov referenced above
was an adult during the 1930’s. The founder and current artistic
director of the Moscow City Ballet is Viktor Smirnov-Golovanov.
He was born in 1934.