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Russian Visionaries: From Glinka to the Firebird
rec. 1927-1960
ARBITER 164 [78:00 + 78:18]

This is the latest in Arbiter’s erudite explorations of a given musical terrain which, in this case is, self-explanatorily, Russia. Allan Evans’ extensive booklet essay charts a course through the country’s musical identity via its composers, most obviously Tchaikovsky in the context of this twofer, but also through its exalted executant musicians, some of whom grace the track listing.

The first disc contains two premiere releases. Erica Morini plays Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Szell in New York in December 1955. Arbiter has a substantial track record, as it were, with Morini having previously released a swathe of live material, all of which I’ve reviewed. She left a studio recording of the work with Defauw in Chicago in 1945, a performance that was reissued on Biddulph 80168, though the 1956 Rodzinski is the best-known incarnation. Other live performances have turned up over the years; a Horenstein-directed version from 1957 is on Music & Arts 1116. Though it was long obscure, the Stravinsky-led broadcast from 1940 has also surfaced in recent years: it can be found on Doremi. The Morini-Szell performance needs a high volume setting as it was clearly cut at a rather low level. Morni’s elegance, precision and graceful playing is characteristically abetted and buttressed by piquant slides. She plays with facility and an engagement sometimes missing in her studio recordings. Of particular note is her superb bowing and to her often-crystalline brilliance can be added qualities of warmth in the slow movement – kudos to the New York Philharmonic’s clarinet principal - but of the chaste kind. The finale is heady but not overly propulsive. The rapport between soloist and conductor is strong.

A much earlier artefact is the 1937 Stuttgart broadcast of the Piano Concerto given by Alfred Hoehn, another artist for whom Arbiter has done its bit, though given the rather exiguous nature of his recorded legacy and early death it’s a much patchier legacy. Though the recorded sound is somewhat squishy the solo spectrum is pretty well intact. The ear soon adjusts, however imperfect the results may be. All the extent evidence suggest Hoehn was not a watertight technician and was a soloist subject to lapses in live contexts. He’s not as imperfect here, in that respect, as in the torso of Brahms’ B flat Concerto on Arbiter 162 (see review) but he does plays with solid command even if conductor Wilhelm Buschkötter indulges a melodramatic paragraph or two.

There are a number of other important documents in the second disc. The Nutcracker Suite is the latest in Arbiter’s valuable restorations of Oskar Fried’s important recordings. Made in Berlin in December 1927 this well-balanced early electric was soon followed by a re-make in London in February 1929 for Columbia with the (pre-Beecham) Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, during the same sessions that he recorded the Sixth Symphony. Issay Dobrowen’s Berlin-recorded Polovetsian Dances come across trimly though Albert Coates’ From the Steppes of Central Asia is far better-known from previous reissues. It’s however, especially revealing to hear Stravinsky conduct his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sadko Suite as well as his own Fireworks in a New York concert given in January 1937 and again making first release status. In decent sound for the time these are especially valuable items expanding Stravinsky’s legacy of New York broadcasts yet further. Dobrowen can also be heard in a well-pointed Russlan and Lyudmila Overture with the Danish Radio Orchestra in 1950: another first release.

Rounding things off are a series of piano recordings by the following: Michael Zadora, one of Sapellnikoff’s Vocalions, Rachmaninoff’s 1920 recording of Tchaikovsky Troika from the Seasons, a c.1950 disc of Alexander Kamensky playing a small piece by Mussorgsky, Chopin-and-Scriabin from Konstantin Igumnov – two of the three are on APR5662 – as well as a trio of Tchaikovsky pieces from 1947 and a single Sofronitsky playing, inevitably in the circumstances, Scriabin in 1960.

I rather regret the lack of discographic information throughout and stonier auditors than I may well cavil at elements of the programming, which does wear a rather strange look: the problematic area is that reserved for solo piano music, some of which – but certainly not all – is well known by now. Nevertheless, there are some real rarities in this set which will make a very direct appeal to collectors.

Jonathan Woolf

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 35 (1878) [30:04]
Erica Morini (violin)/New York Philharmonic/Georg Szell
Kolykol’naya Pesna, Op.16 No.1 arr. Pabst [3:51]
Aveu passionné for Piano in E minor (1890-91) [2:41]
Morceaux (6) for Piano, Op. 19: No 1, Rêverie du soir (1873) [3:34]
Konstantin Igumnov (piano)
Concerto for Piano No 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Alfred Hoehn (piano)/Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra/Wilhelm Buschkötter
The Seasons, Op. 37b: No 11, November "Troika" [3:44]
Sergei Rachmaninov (piano)
Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857)
Russlan and Ludmilla: Overture (1837-42) [4:35]
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Issay Dobrowen
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a (1892) [21:53]
Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Oskar Fried
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Pieces (10) for Piano, Op. 12: no 7, Prelude in C major (1906-13) [1:35]
Michael Zadora (piano)
Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1910)-Mikhail GLINKA
The Lark [3:13]
Vassily Sapellnikoff (piano)
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
On the southern shore of the Crimea (1880) [4:37]
Alexander Kaminsky (piano)
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances [7:31]
Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Issay Dobrowen
In the steppes of central Asia (1880) [6:57]
London Symphony Orchestra/Albert Coates
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Sadko: Suite
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/Igor Stravinsky
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Fireworks, Op. 4 (1908) [3:56]
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/Igor Stravinsky
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1809-1847)
Mazurkas (3) for Piano, B 153/Op. 56: No 1 in B major (1843) [3:11]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Mazurkas (9) for Piano, Op. 25: No 7 in F sharp minor (1899) [3:41]
Poèmes (2) for Piano, Op. 32: No 1 in F sharp major (1903) [3:50]
Konstantin Igumnov (piano)
Poèmes (2) for Piano, Op. 69: No 1 (1913) [1:54]
Vladimir Sofronitzky (piano)



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