Les Chœurs de l’armée soviétique (The Soviet Army Choir), Boris Alexandrov. Chant du Monde LDC 274.768 (1985 ?), barcode 3149022347681
A Tale of Two CDs
8 September 2018
I was exploring the early CD catalog of the French label Chant du Monde and happened on this one. No copyright indication to give a notion of when it was released, but the catalog of the French National Library (link will open a new tab) dates it 1985, which, given the CD cover’s graphic style, seems plausible, and makes it a very early CD indeed. Its original issue probably didn’t even display a barcode – Harmonia Mundi, Chant du Monde’s distributor, didn’t start using them until 1988-89, and then reprinted some of their early, barcodeless issues with one – and Bibliothèque Nationale de France doesn’t indicate one. So what I have – with barcode – is probably one of those later reprints from circa 1988 or 89.
The CD appears in fact to be the partial release, on the new medium, of a double LP, LDX 74768/69 (note the parallel in barcode numbers, the CD adding a 2 as first digit). The LP is listed on discogs.com, which proves again to be an invaluable website for discographic references. A number of songs are lost in the passage from two LPs to one CD (10 out of the LP set’s 26), but apparently two are also added from other sources: track 3 “La Chanson du bouleau” (the birch’s song) and 13 “le glas de Buchenwald” (the toll of Buchenwald). Since the two-LP set was itself a compilation from previous albums, Chant du Monde had more Melodiya-originated material to draw from. “Le glas de Buchenwald”, for instance, was included in Chant du Monde LDX-S 4290 (1964), ”Les Chœurs de l’Armée Soviétique A Paris – 1963-1964” (The Soviet Army Choir in Paris – whoof, for a second I thought in was the Soviet Army that was in Paris in 1963-64 and nobody had told me), which also had three more songs featured in the compilation (including La Marseillaise and the Soviet anthem). “La Chanson du bouleau” was on Chant du Monde LDX-S 4260 (1961) “Les Chœurs de l’Armée Soviétique à Paris” – already in 1960, with more of the songs selected on the compilation. That one was awarded a 1961 “Grand prix du disque”.
But there’s also a little riddle to that Chant du Monde LDC 274.768 reference. Later, in 1993, Chant du Monde reissued the same label number but with a different prefix, LDX 274 768, and a different barcode, 3149025061218 , now titled “Les Chœurs de l’Armée Rouge à Paris”. And this one is NOT the reissue of LDC 274.768, but a reissue to CD of the (shorter) LDX-S 4260 from 1961 (note how the “Soviet Army” has now become the “Red Army”). Why they chose to publish it under the same label number as the other disc, I don’t know. I can only guess that, since Le Chant du Monde’s CDs followed the label numbering of their LPs, with the 74 XXX series becoming 274 XXX and so forth, maybe they didn’t have a label numbering equivalent for their Soviet Army Choir series LDX-S 42XX. Still, they would have had 274.769 available to avoid any confusion, since the double-LP that the original 1985 CD (LDC 274.768) reissued had a double digit, 74 768/69 (are you still with me?). Fortunately they published the new CD with another barcode, so there should be no confusion if you search one or the other CD on your favorite online retailer.
Now that I’ve dealt with those discographic minutiae, what about the music? I won’t pretend being a specialist of the Red Army Choir or of any Russian Choir (I did review a few CDs from the Don Cossaks Choir…) so my appreciation is very qualified, but it seems to me that if you are looking for a CD of the Red Army Choir, this is as good a start as any. The program alternates between the heroic and the nostalgic, and it’s all very Russian indeed. The choir sings with more enthusiasm than discipline and mellowness, but then you don’t expect the Soviet army to be mellow, do you. The disc also sold very cheap when I bought it a few days ago, which was, I must confess, my main incentive to explore. The sound is a bit harsh (1960s…) but very acceptable. There are a few changes of sonic ambience between tracks, but nothing jarring. Be aware though that my copy has no liner notes of any sort, just gatefold-opening cover whose inside is entirely blank and back cover entirely black, so the only info you’ll get is on the CD’s backcover, and that doesn’t include the names of the soloists, which did appear on the original LPs. TT 59 minutes