Classical Reissue Reviews
The Anthology of Russian Symphony Music – Evgeny Svetlanov Foundation
Published on February 1, 2007
Evgeny Svetlanov Foundation SVET 070 22-3, (2 CDs) 72:49; 63:49 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
The late Evgeny Svetlanov (1929-2002) more than inherited the mantle of his own great predecessor Nicolai Golovanov; Svetlanov embarked on a major restoration of his Russian national musical heritage with several series’ worth of anthologies of Russian music. Estimates of Svetlanov’s recorded legacy run as high as 2,000 inscriptions! Describing himself as a blatant neo-Romantic, Svetlanov proclaimed that “my head alone is not enough for my music; I demand my soul to be involved in music.” And while certain contemporary Russian musicians held Svetlanov’s catholic interests, he remained indifferent to atonality and serialism. His performances–led after 1980 without baton– consistently evidence a high gloss, tremendous energy, and a loving emphasis on inner details. With examples like Mravinsky, Kondrashin, and Sanderling in his past, Svetlanov made visceral attacks and resounding sonority his major selling points.
The present collation derives from inscriptions made 1955-1992, with no specific dates given for each set of pieces. The operas are arranged chronologically, with the Voyevoda (1868, after Ostrovsky) first. I started with the Overture and excerpts from The Slippers (1885) after Gogol‚s story The Night Before Christmas because Anatole Fistoulari had recorded some excerpts for MGM on LP. The Overture is quite extensive, and the Polonaise is broad in the Eugene Onegin mold. The music to Mazeppa (1879, after Pushkin’s poem) is already quite well known–the Gopak, for instance–the Introduction has a touch of Liszt, and the Entr’acte Poltava Battle uses a theme we know from Beethoven’s first Rasoumovsky Quartet and Moussorgsky’s Boris Gudonov. The Sorceress , based on a Novgorod legend (1887) has a most gorgeous Overture, as well as some dark harmonies we recall from Francesca da Rimini. From Tchaikovky’s perhaps best opera The Queen of Spades (1890, after Pushkin) we have the Introduction, whose theme echoes the first strong woodwind theme from Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Trumpets, piccolo, and tympani then accelerate the tension for this story of greed and thwarted love. Iolantha (1891, after a drama by Hertsa) is perhaps the most amorphous of these orchestral excerpts, woodwind pipings and exotic harmonies that make for an eerie suggestion from The Nutcracker.
The Voyevode enjoys some delicate coloring, including the gentle brush of cymbals. Some of the repeated forte chords could have been lifted from Moussorgsky’s Night on Bare Mountain. The Entr’acte captures pastoral scenes folk life of the XVII century. The harp work competes with the big ballets. The Oprichnik (1872, after a tragedy by Lazhechnikov) is new to me. After a heavy opening reminiscent of Beethoven, a tender theme emerges. The final pages, as well as the Women’s Dance, employ hurried, spirited figures out of Glinka. It might be of interest to note that of all of Liszt’s settings of other composers’ operas, only the Polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s Evgeny Onegin (1877, after Pushkin) warranted a Liszt transcription.
The little Ecossaise from Act III scurries like a character-piece from Swan Lake. The Maid of Orleans (1879, based on Schiller’s tragedy) receives five excerpts from Svetlanov. The Introduction merges orchestral turmoil with a grand march in the Verdi vein, followed by decidedly Russian punctuation. Verdi triplets again for the Act IV Entr’acte lead to a waltz for harp and strings. The characteristic dances gambol in ways familiar to Smetana, cross-fertilized by Russian and Tchaikovsky’s weakness for Wagner. Thoroughly delectable, alternative Tchaikovsky for collectors.
– Gary Lemco