Reissue CDs Weekly: Mikael Tariverdiev | reviews, news & interviews
Reissue CDs Weekly: Mikael Tariverdiev
Reissue CDs Weekly: Mikael Tariverdiev
Melancholy soundtrack of Russian classic ‘The Irony of Fate’ is brought to Anglophone listeners
New Year’s Eve has its rituals and, in the Russian-speaking world, watching the 1976 film The Irony of Fate is core to ringing out the old and ringing in the new. A television staple, it has the seasonal status of It’s a Wonderful Life, The Little Shop on the Corner and White Christmas. First seen in Russian homes as a three-hour, two-part small-screen production on the first day of 1976, it was subsequently edited and shown in cinemas.
The Irony of Fate (the full title is The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!: Ирония судьбы, или С лёгким паром!) is a farcical and straightforward-seeming comedy of errors. After meeting his friends at a Moscow bathhouse on New Year’s Eve, Zhenya is drunk, comatose and mistakenly put on a plane to Leningrad. One of the revellers was meant to go there and, as it isn’t remembered who, the group plump for Zhenya.
On his arrival in Leningrad, Zhenya thinks he is still in Moscow, gets a taxi to his home address, puts his key in the lock, opens the door and goes to sleep. He doesn’t notice he is in another city or a strange flat: the addresses are the same; the streets look the same; the furniture is the same. When the flat’s occupant Nadya arrives, he belatedly realises something is wrong. Many misunderstandings ensue and Zhenya can’t get back to Moscow as they are no more flights. Forced to spend New Year’s Eve together, the initially feuding Zhenya and Nadya fall in love. The next day, he returns to Moscow and the smitten Nadya follows. It’s no problem finding him as they share the same address. The film is usually read as a commentary on imposed uniformity.
Both Zhenya and Nadya are seen singing (the voices heard are actually those of professional singers) and music is integral to The Irony of Fate. The composer was Mikael Tariverdiev (Микаэл Таривердиев) who, thanks to the ground-breaking late 2015 box set Film Music (see theartsdesk’s review for background on Tariverdiev), is now better known in the west than he was a couple of years ago. The release of The Irony of Fate (Original Score) fills-out the picture even more. Much of the music will be instantly familiar to millions of people but it comes fresh to Anglophone ears. Also, hearing an individual soundtrack for the first time rather than a career-spanning retrospective compilation brings the opportunity to appreciate a discrete part of Tariverdiev’s work, helping to understand some of his music as a stand-alone entity.
Ultimately, the reaction is much as it was with Film Music. How on earth did this extraordinarily gifted composer escape attention in this part of the world? Some tracks from The Irony of Fate were included on Film Music, but hearing them together here stresses that Tariverdiev’s facility with melody was as acute as that of Francis Lai and Michael Legrand but has a unique strain of Chopin-esque melancholy which bleeds into each composition. The instrumental “Hope” is played solo on a guitar but sounds as if little that’s happy is on horizon. Despite being up-tempo and in a dance-friendly waltz-time, the orchestrated “Expectation of the New Year” is shot-through with a similarly desolate feel. The lush, string-suffused “Snow Over Leningrad” defines misty reflection.
The songs sung solo by the proxy Zhenya and Nadya come across as an intimate form of chanson: in France they would fit snugly into the repertoire of Georges Brassens or Marie Laforêt. But what lingers most after hearing this music divorced from the film it was composed for is, simply, its greatness. The melodies are wonderful. The contemplative atmosphere generated is unforgettable. If, after Film Music, further conformation were needed that Tariverdiev is a master, this is it.
The full soundtrack music for the Irony of Fate hasn't been easily available. In 1976, eight tracks were included on one side of the album Music From Soundtracks (Музыка Из Кинофильмов: pictured above left). The new 17-track release expands the old album, comes on vinyl (a code for downloading the music is included in the package), is well mastered and looks the part: once in the hands, it feels like an old album. Do investigate this fine reissue. The music from this classic Russian film is a delight.
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