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Sons of Russia

Duration:
1 hour
First broadcast:
Sunday 24 January 2010

Actors Mackenzie Crook and Jason Isaacs explore male fragility in Russian literature. The tensions between generations and classes are revealed with readings from Gogol, Turgenev and Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, whilst adulterous love infuses his short story The Lady with the Dog. Perhaps above all, why do these men have such an attachment to their Motherland? Why does the average Russian 'Ivan' place his country above everything else, even God? With music by Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Schnittke.

In the past decade, Mackenzie Crook has quickly established himself as a versatile character actor after appearing in the BBC TV comedy The Office and Pirates of the Caribbean films. Mackenzie reads from Dostoyevsky's Crime & Punishment, Gogol's The Government Inspector and Pushkin's Eugene Onegin.

Jason Isaacs, introduced to a new generation of film lovers as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, reads passages from Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, Three Sisters and short story The Lady with the Dog, as well as extracts from Turgenev and Tolstoy.

Music Played

43 items
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
  • Image for Lamb
    00:00

    Lamb Soft Mistake [extract]

    FONTANA 558 821-2

  • Tyutchev

    Russia cannot be grasped with the mind, Or measured in feet and inches. For she has a special character: In Russian one can only believe. Read by Masha Karp

  • Image for Trad
    00:01

    Trad Rodina Slyshit (Motherland hears)

    Performers: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (aged 11)

    Delos DE 3339

  • Chekhov

    The Lady with the Dog [extract] read by Jason Isaacs

  • Image for Nikolai Karlovich Medtner
    00:03

    Nikolai Karlovich Medtner Canzona Matinata in G major

    Performers: Nikolai Demidenko (piano)

    HELIOS CDH55315

  • Gogol

    The Government Inspector [extract] read by Mackenzie Crook

  • Image for Alfred Garyevich Schnittke
    00:06

    Alfred Garyevich Schnittke Gogol Suite, VI The Bureaucrats, Allegro

    Performers: Malmö Symphony Orchestra, Lev Markiz (conductor)

    BIS CD 557

  • Image for Lamb
    00:09

    Lamb Soft Mistake [extract]

    FONTANA 558 821-2

  • Tyutchev

    Russia cannot be grasped with the mind, Or measured in feet and inches. For she has a special character: In Russian one can only believe. Read by Masha Karp

  • Samuel Collins

    Tales of Shibarsha [extract] read by Jason Isaacs and Mackenzie Crook

  • Image for Alexander Borodin
    00:10

    Alexander Borodin Prince Igor, Dance of the Polovtsian Maidens

    Performers: Kirov Orchestra, Valery Gergiev (conductor)

    PHILIPS 446 820-2

  • Image for Trad
    00:12

    Trad Brewing Song

    Performers: The Male Choir of St Petersburg

    EMI 7243 5 73166 2 0

  • Chekhov

    Champagne [extract] read by Mackenzie Crook

  • Image for Lamb
    00:15

    Lamb Soft Mistake [extract]

    FONTANA 558 821-2

  • Proverb

    A person without a motherland Is like a nightingale without song. Read by Masha Karp

  • Mandelstam

    Untitled read by Jason Isaacs

  • Image for Dmitri Shostakovich
    00:16

    Dmitri Shostakovich Symphony No.10, movt 2 Allegro

    Performers: Leningrad Symphony Orchestra, Yuri Temirkanov (conductor)

    RUSSIAN DISC RD CD 11 195

  • Pushkin

    Eugene Onegin [extract] read by Mackenzie Crook

  • Image for Vlasov
    00:21

    Vlasov The fountain in the courtyard of Bakhchisaray

    Performers: Joan Rodgers (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano)

    HYPERION CDA 67773

  • Tolstoy

    War & Peace [extract] read by Jason Isaacs

  • Image for Charles Mayer
    00:26

    Charles Mayer Galop militaire for four hands in E flat major

    Performers: Alexander Bakhchiyev, Yelena Sorokina (piano)

    Chandos CHAN 9418

  • Dostoyevsky

    Crime & Punishment [extract] read by Mackenzie Crook

  • Image for Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin
    00:30

    Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin Prometheus (The poem of fire) (Op.60) [extract]

    Performers: Anatol Ugorski (piano), Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez (conductor)

    DG 459 647-2

  • Image for Dmitri Shostakovich
    00:37

    Dmitri Shostakovich The Nose, III Zwischenakt

    Performers: Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, Michail Jurowski (conductor)

    CAPRICCIO 10 779

  • Lenin

    What is to be done? [extract] read by Jason Isaacs

  • Image for Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev
    00:38

    Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev Alexander Nevsky, Field of the dead

    Arranger: Franck Krawczyk Performers: Accentus, Laurence Equilbey (director)

    NAÏVE V 5048

  • Image for Aram Khachaturian
    00:42

    Aram Khachaturian The Battle of Stalingrad, Eternal Glory to the Heroes [extract]

    Performers: Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Adriano (conductor)

    NAXOS 8.223314

  • Solzhenitsyn

    The Secret Life of Ivan Denisovich [extract] read by Mackenzie Crook

  • Anthony Beevor

    Stalingrad [extract] read by Jason Isaacs

  • Propaganda Slogan

    Motherland is calling! read by Masha Karp

  • Image for Sergey Vasilievich Rachmaninov
    00:46

    Sergey Vasilievich Rachmaninov All Night Vigil, Vespers, Rojoice, O Virgin

    Performers: Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Paul Hillier (director)

    HARMONIA MUNDI HMU 907384

  • Image for Gubaidulina
    00:49

    Gubaidulina Vater, ich befehle meihen from Sieben Worte (Seven Words) [extract]

    Performers: Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Mario Venzago (conductor)

    BIS SACD 1449

  • Tyutchev

    Russia cannot be grasped with the mind, Or measured in feet and inches. For she has a special character: In Russian one can only believe. Read by Masha Karp

  • Turgenev

    Fathers & Sons [extract] read by Jason Isaacs

  • Image for Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev
    00:51

    Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev String Quartet No.1, Movt 1 [extract]

    Performers: Emerson String Quartet

    DG 431 772-2

  • Image for Gabriel Prokofiev
    00:51

    Gabriel Prokofiev String Quartet No.2, Movt 2 [extract]

    Performers: The Elysian Quartet

    NONCLASSICAL CD 003

  • Image for Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev
    00:53

    Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev String Quartet No.1, Movt 1 [extract]

    Performers: Emerson String Quartet

    DG 431 772-2

  • Chekhov

    The Cherry Orchard [extract] read by Jason Isaacs

  • Image for Lamb
    00:55

    Lamb Soft Mistake [extract]

    FONTANA 558 821-2

  • Tyutchev

    Russia cannot be grasped with the mind, Or measured in feet and inches. For she has a special character: In Russian one can only believe. Read by Masha Karp

  • Chekhov

    Three Sisters [extract] read by Jason Isaacs

  • Image for Trad
    00:57

    Trad Rodina Slyshit (Motherland hears)

    Performers: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (aged 11)

    Delos DE 3339

  • Propaganda Slogan

    Translation: Warrior, answer Motherland with victory. Read by Masha Karp

  • Mackenzie Crook

    Mackenzie Crook

  • Jason Isaacs

    Jason Isaacs

  • Producer's note:

    “In Russia one can only believe.”

    After reading Anthony Beevor’s Stalingrad, I was struck by the extraordinary sense of belonging Russian troops had to their country. What was it that instilled such passion in the everyday “Ivan”? The word rodina (Motherland) means more than just the place where one is born. It refers to a collective national identity that can never be broken.

    With this in mind, I was perplexed that there didn’t seem to be many strong role models in the works of Anton Chekhov and other Russian dramatists and writers. Most of the men are weak, susceptible, corrupted or greedy. It seems they have to reach much further back to tales such as Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible to find a real national hero.

    Throughout the programme, the voice of Mother Russia (read by Masha Karp) interjects with passages of the romantic poet Tyutchev, propaganda slogans and a Russian proverb. The translations can be found below in the running order.

    To start the programme, an 11 year old Dmitri Hvorostovsky sings Motherland hears, a hugely popular tune that all Russians are taught from an early age. It is said that Yuri Gagarin, on the first manned space orbit in 1961, whistled the melody back to ground control.

    Gogol’s The Government Inspector offers a satirical cross section of Russian society. Schnittke’s Gogol Suite layers Mozartian motives to sardonically refer to the establishment’s delusions of grandeur.

    Anton Chekhov’s dramatic works stand him out as the titan of the form. Perhaps lesser known, but just as valid, his 220 short stories were able to condense complex human feelings and moral choices that many readers could relate to within a simple narrative. In The Lady with the Dog, unrequited love is directly addressed with the story of middle-aged Moscovite Dmitri Gurov who meets a young wife Anna Sergeyevna in a Black Sea resort. Their tryst is short but the affair plagues Gurov on his return to the capital, he can’t get the thought of Anna out of his mind. In Champagne, the wayfarer (portrayed by Mackenzie Crook) relates the story of his alcoholic descent into a dark city alleyway via a desolate station in the Russian steppe.

    The character of Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky’s Crime & Punishment is devastatingly flawed. After committing the bloody murder, he returns to his bedsit, where he promptly falls asleep. Upon awakening he realises, in a moment of panic, that there is still blood on his trousers. A hypochondriac all his life, Scriabin’s The Poem of Fire convincingly sets the mood.

    Lenin’s What is to be done? was written as a political pamphlet in 1901. It calls for the formation of a revolutionary party to direct the working class. Underneath actor Jason Isaac’s oratorical reading, the music to Shostakovich’s opera The Nose bombastically mocks bourgeois self-importance.

    In Turgenev’s best known work Fathers & Sons, the character Yevgeny Bazarov discards the outdated ways of the old generation and embraces the future. In music, it can be intriguing to juxtapose works from different generations. Gabriel Prokofiev acknowledges that his grandfather has hugely influenced his work and it is interesting to hear their different (or perhaps, you may think, similar) approaches to writing for string quartet.

    The programme ends with two of Chekhov’s most famous dramatic works, The Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters. In the final act of The Cherry Orchard, the cast are stunned into silence when Lopakhin reveals it is he himself who has purchased the orchard. The old guard have been replaced by new money. Maybe there are strong role models in Russian literature after all?

    Producer: Tom Nelson

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