Golovanov was born in Moscow on 21 January 1891 and
died there on 28 August 1953. This was one year after he was stripped
of his chief conductor role at the Bolshoi. Such was the fate of those
who fell from Komsomol favour.
His conducting style is said to have helped shape both
Samuel Samosud and Evgeny Svetlanov. I cannot instantly recall a Samosud
recording but I can certainly hear the Golovanov 'glove' fitting snugly
over Svetlanov's hands. An example is Svetlanov's 'raw meat' Melodiya
1960s recording of Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony (USSRSO).
What is the Golovanov style? The evidence I have is
from various Arlecchino and Bohème discs (the latter extensively
reviewed on this site) as well as this set. None of the recordings I
have heard are anything other than exciting. Every one of them is an
event. He seems not to have had microphone nerves. If anyone had nerves
it must have been the Melodiya engineers who had to accommodate the
extremes he generated.
We start with the Liszt tone poems. Did he record
all of them? Five of them are here. I know that he also recorded Tasso,
Hungaria and Hunnenschlacht. Whatever happened to Les
Golovanov applies his usual intemperate emotionalism
to these faded scores. He has the sonorous gift of making them sound
greater music than they are. Perhaps the generation that learnt them
from Karajan's Les Préludes (DG), Beecham's Orpheus
(EMI), Mehta's sideshow romp Hunnenschlacht (Decca circa
1971) not to mention complete sets from Haitink and Masur (the latter
just reissued by EMI France) simply had the misfortune to hear
them in misguided hands. Mehta comes closest to Golovanov in his barnstorming
Battle of the Huns. Rather a pity that Golovanov's 'Hun Battle'
was not included in place of Prometheus.
Héroïde Funèbre begins and
ends with the metallic death rattle of the side drum. This is a grand
funereal processional with infusions from Tchaikovsky's Pathétique.
At 9.53 the French Horn plays in fruity abandon emoting away with all
inhibitions about vibrato quite unbuttoned. In Mazeppa one can
see a starting point from which Tchaikovsky developed his far more cogent
essays - Francesca and Hamlet. Also note the typically
obstreperous Magyar element - arrogant and self confident. Festklänge
continues the story with bombast and chivalry - a little like a Russian
Froissart. Authentic Russian style French Horns are much in evidence
(try 12.38). Through the light burble of surface noise Prometheus
sounds like lower second-drawer Tchaikovsky. Orpheus (beloved
of Beecham) ends CD1. It is light textured - a little like Berlioz in
poetic mode in the Fantastique. The great rearing brass gesturing
at 7.40 sounds very much like something from an Arensky symphony. Rob
Cowan, in his notes, makes the link between Golovanov's way with Liszt
and Siloti's at his Moscow and St Petersburg concerts.
The first disc launches with Glazunov's Sixth Symphony.
This is given with withering intensity. The shimmering-shuddering strings
glow as if irradiated. Golovanov invests his usual suspense and crackerjack
rip and slash inciting playing that is the aural equivalent of an oilwell
fire. The second movement is a theme and variations in which the intensity
is slackened though tight control can still be sensed. Golovanov is
confident enough to place clear blue water between the theme and each
of the seven variations. They are not separately banded. The third variation
is a typically chuckling effervescent scherzino which Golovanov
powers through with much the same breathless precision that he brings
to the Mendelssohn Scherzo from A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The glitteringly eager and brittle little Intermezzo (only 3.44)
is balletic. The 9.37 finale starts like the last movement of Borodin's
Second and then develops a dark regal euphoria that I associate with
the finale of Rachmaninov's First Symphony. Rather like the Liszt tone
poems Golovanov makes this music sound better, perhaps, than it is.
Intriguing to hear the Russian way (or at least the
Golovanov way) with Mendelssohn. This is distinguished by ramrod
control, an orchestra firing on all cylinders combining pulse-quickening
velocity, a feathery touch and a romanticism that does not dawdle. The
playing in the scherzo is as close as most listeners come to death-defying.
The 1812 is from a live concert rustling
with coughs and squeaks. The conductor leans on the tempi, pushing and
pulling the line with results that sound like improvisation. As so often
with Golovanov he pulls off that rare trick of spontaneity and staggering
tone and unanimity. We are spared the cannon shots that sold the RCA 'dynagroove'
LPs to us in the sixties (remember that Igor Buketoff disc?). Even minus
ordnance Golovanov convinces us that this is worth hearing. It is well
beyond the sort of grandiose Sunday matinée nonsense that used
to draw crowds at the Victor Hochhauser concerts at the Royal Albert
Hall in the seventies (I am only jealous!). The downward rushing violins
(at 12.04, 12.40, 12.52, 13.12) are phenomenal like superheated acid
sleet. As for the peremptory fanfare in the last few minutes - well
no wonder the impassive Muscovites erupted in applause. Excuse me I
need to have a little sit down now! I know that everyone put 1812
behind them (with other childish things) many years ago but don't
We need to remind ourselves that everything but the
1812, itself taken down live, was recorded in the year of Golovanov's
death or the year before. There is nowhere a hint of a frail man; quite
the contrary! It is so sad that he never came to record Tchaikovsky's
Fourth or Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances.
Where do we go from here? Those who want more from
this conductor have plenty to choose from on the Russian label, Bohème,
including all the Scriabin and flaming performances of Francesca,
Rachmaninov's Second Symphony and Mozart's Requiem. For later
GCOC instalments will EMI Classics look at recordings by Anosov,
Samosud and Gauk? Mravinsky, Kondrashin and Rozhdestvensky would be
much more obvious choices. If the latter can I put in a plea now for
Stephen Wright and John Pattrick to audition Rozhdestvensky's Melodiya
LP of Enescu's First Symphony. This combines piledriver power with the
heat of a thermal lance. Kondrashin's Moscow RSO recording of the Rachmaninov
Symphonic Dances also needs the sort of tender loving restorative
care that only this EMI team can give it. Hiding behind the various
sadly deficient transfers currently in circulation is a blistering performance
that wipes the floor with every other one I have heard including Ashkenazy,
Jansons, Goossens, Ormandy and Litton.
All mono. Good restorative work - not too intrusive.
Extra-ordinary musicmaking. Golovanov - a conductor in whose music we
hear a man blessed by the Furies and hunted by Angels.
IF YOU NEED YET MORE GOLOVANOV:-
- First Symphony
2. Allegro dramatico
of these Scriabin issues
Alexander Scriabin - Second Symphony
Alexander Scriabin - Third Symphony and Poem of Ecstasy
1. Concerto for piano and orchestra in F sharp minor op.20
2. Reverie op.24
3. Prometheus (Poem of Fire) op.60
Vassily Kalinnikov - Symphony No 1
1. Peter Tchaikovsky - "Francesca da Rimini" Fantasia
2. Vassily Kalinnikov - First Symphony in G minor
Symphony No 6
CDBMR GOLO1 1
There are also Boheme CDs of the Rachmaninov Symphonies 2 and 3 and
the Mozart Requiem
In the UK you should be able to order these from D I Music. Let me know
if you need help with this. RB