The one album you should buy this month: Tariverdiev – Film Music
50 tracks across three records, cinephiles can put this on top of their Christmas wishlist
Back when St Petersburg was called Leningrad and film directors defected to escape censors, composer Mikael Tariverdiev was the Danny Elfman of his day. Spurred by a long-standing collaboration with director Mikhail Kalik, Tariverdiev scored some of the most popular Soviet films of the day, from Goodbye, Boys to rom-com Irony of Fate and the cult TV spy series Seventeen Moments of Spring – yet, until now, none of his music has been available in the West.
After a chance encounter with one of the composer’s soundtracks in a Moscow café, music producer Stephen Coates spent four years hunting down and collecting Tariverdiev’s works for release; the result is Film Music, a compilation of about 50 tracks on three discs. Combining records, photography and written biography, it’s both a historical record of the artistic output of the Soviet Union after Stalin and a compilation record containing tracks from across Tariverdiev’s career, during which he wrote music for over 130 films. The fact that the films these scores were made for are themselves largely unavailable in the West isn’t a barrier; instead, it only highlights how evocative and effective Tariverdiev’s work could be.
The soundtrack from Irony of Fate – a hugely popular romantic comedy of errors with, according to the synopsis, a hilarious-sounding subplot concerning Brezhnev-era architecture – is especially seasonal, though that might just be because the Soviet Union, with all that red-and-gold livery, was the most Christmassy of all the Cold War superpowers. Meanwhile, the score from Seventeen Moments of Spring is noirish and brooding. Fittingly for a spy thriller made for TV about a Nazi official who defects to the USSR as the Red Army advance on Berlin, it’s redolent of a world of collars-turned-up against the cold, counter-espionage in corridors and fraught conversations in bunkers.
Tariverdiev returned to the same themes throughout his life, despite his huge canon covering classical, jazz and avant-garde music. The composer’s early work is chirpy and optimistic, though often melancholy, and on the tracks from the end of his career, it seems as if he attempted to reprise some of the themes he first discovered in the 60s.
Despite the amount of material included, Film Music is still just a snapshot, though a unique one: a portrait of a composer producing artistically fulfilling work despite political stagnation and censorship, popular whilst practically unknown outside of his native culture. Film Music is a rare thing; a compilation record that tells a story.
Film Music is out now via Earth Records, available on download, CD and LP.