Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

The Orchestral Works conducted by NIKOLAI GOLOVANOV

Mono recordings reissued from Melodiya LPs dating from 1946-1952

BOHEME - Russian Classical Collection on four CDs
details below


These four discs, available separately, are a handsome product both in appearance and in listening quality. Their Russian origin is strongly proclaimed in Cyrillic notes and titles with English translations. The recordings can never have sounded so well as they do here. Whoever handled the technical aspects should take a major bow. The sound quality is close to miraculous for recordings of this era. You may well know these recordings from the Italian Arlecchino discs which gave the three symphonies in a two disc box (ARL65-66) and the other items (apart from Reverie) on ARL 32. As far as I am aware those discs are no longer available (they were remaindered in the UK at £4.99 a piece back in 1998 by Going For a Song). Their sound quality was not up to Boheme's standards and the first symphony was split across two discs in the symphony set. In the case of the symphonies Arlecchino's programme notes were quite brief for the symphonies although excellent and extremely informative in the case of ARL32. 

Symphony No. 1 (1899-1900)
Lyudmila Legostayeva (mezzo) Anatoly Orfenov (ten) The Great SO and Choir of the All-Union Radio and Central TV/Nikolai Golovanov
rec 1948 BOHEME MUSIC CDBMR 907081 [49.43]

A symphony written on the cusp of the new century, appropriately epic and one that in its finale (and not only there) burns, in this performance, with perfervid zeal. The language is that of late-ish Tchaikovsky (Pathétique and Manfred) but with lashings of intensity layered on thick. For those allergic to Scriabin's secular/spiritual ecstasies and apostolic visions this work will come as a benign revelation. The symphony is better counted in the company of the delightful piano concerto. Its weakness, across five of its six movements, is the deploying of themes which are not the equal in memorability of those in the concerto. Golovanov largely overcomes this by maintaining a high ambient flame. A sense of conviction grips us. I retain a real affection for this piece which I discovered through Svetlanov's EMI-Melodiya disc. None of the other performances I have heard (Inbal and Muti) are a patch on Golovanov and Svetlanov (a Golovanov pupil). What a pity that BMG-Melodiya have not picked up the Svetlanov set. As it is this may well be the hottest performance on disc. Clearly it cannot match the stereo competition in terms of clarity however its idiomatic passionate heat represent a very special experience.


Rob Barnett


Symphony No. 2
The Great SO and Choir of the All-Union Radio and Central TV/Nikolai Golovanov
rec 1950 BOHEME MUSIC CDBMR 907082 [47.18]

From a first symphony of six movements Scriabin moved to a second in five. Scriabin's muse is lyric portrayed most radiantly in the very fine woodwind solos. Impetuous and rhapsodic the crushing dynamics are 'pulled' once or twice by the original Melodiya engineers to avoid distortion but otherwise the recording is gratifyingly clear and not at all hard to listen to. This symphony 'reads' like the dark cousin of Franck's sprawling Psyché with a breath of life from Tchaikovsky's Francesca and Hamlet as well as the sudden scherzando rushes of the Glazunov symphonies. The high-tensile grip evident from the Golovanov first is here relaxed as Scriabin gradually finds his way to his more rhapsodic and impulsive self. The grand religious visions are absent. Golovanov's is performance I rate very highly although I know that some critics have condemned it for the addition of inauthentic additional percussion (seems to be a Russian malaise although Stokowski was also given to this sort of sin). Not a first choice then from a recording point of view but certainly a stand-out disc for Scriabin enthusiasts who want a direct-line to the authentic tradition.


Rob Barnett


Symphony No. 3 Divine Poem
(1904) 42.54
Poem of Ecstasy (1907) 22.05
The Great SO and Choir of the All-Union Radio and Central TV/Nikolai Golovanov
rec 1947, rec 1952 BOHEME MUSIC CDBMR 907083 [65.12]

The clamorous Gothic melodrama of the Divine Poem is rich in dramaturgical effect but the work suffers because of the melodic material surface -skates rather than ever memorably asserting itself. At the end one is left with a loose ruminative impression. In fairness the Rachmaninovian sob (close to Elgar) at 14.00 in the first movement is worthy and Golovanov makes the best account of a flawed work.

Golovanov's Poem of Ecstasy is fabulously broad by comparison with Järvi's Chandos version with the Chicago SO (19.43). The trumpet solos are proudly priapic - languidly confident - arrogant in their command. The recording, although in mono, gives a happy spatial sense and paints a picture grouping this work with Griffes Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan and Stravinsky's Firebird. Järvi remains my reference disc (I have not heard Mravinsky or Sinopoli) but Golovanov captures for me the quintessence of Scriabin's sensuous abandon.


Rob Barnett


Piano Concerto
Prometheus - Poem of Fire (1910)
Reverie (1898)
Heinrich Neuhaus (piano) - concerto Alexander Goldenweiser (piano) - poem The Great SO and Choir of the All-Union Radio and Central TV/Nikolai Golovanov
rec 1946 (items 1 and 2) rec 1952 BOHEME MUSIC CDBMR 908087 [52.38]

Heinrich Neuhaus (1888-1964) studied with Godowsky and (like Goldenweiser - 1875-1961 - the other pianist represented here whose piano trio was once available on a valuable Russian Revelation CD) taught at the Moscow Conservatory. Neuhaus was the teacher of Richter and Gilels and his name is closely associated with Scriabin. The piano concerto is a treasurable work and is done trippingly by Neuhaus. However this version (previously Russian Disc RDCD15004) though of great interest cannot hope to match the strengths of the Chandos Postnikova/Rozhdestvensky or indeed the versions (long confined to EMI-Melodiya LP vinyl, 1969 or thereabouts) played with greater muscularity by Stanislas Neuhaus (Heinrich's son - 1927-1980) with the USSRSO conducted by Vladimir Dobrinsky and the 1970s Decca Ashkenazy. The papery hollowness of the recorded piano sound does not help. We should remember that this is the oldest recording of the four discs.

Reverie is a succinct oneiric rhapsody sold at full value by Golovanov. Prometheus is certainly from the hey-day of Scriabin's highest-falutin'. The rousing of the Creative Will suggested by the hierocratic trumpet of Sergei Popov and Goldenweiser's stone-splintery piano is merged and overrun by a self-intoxicated sensuousness. The language is suggestive of Ravel's roughly contemporaneous Daphnis and the exactly contemporaneous Stravinsky Firebird. Golovanov is fully sympathetic and directs around the rapidly flitting moods and general sense of molten transience. The emphasis is on the poetic rather than the dramatic. Koussevitsky and his orchestra gave the premiere with Scriabin at the piano in Moscow on 15 March 1911. The work was given with full colour effects by Modest Altschuler and the Russian SO in New York on 20 March 1915.

The Arlecchino CD claims different orchestras: Moscow RSO for Prometheus and Poem of Ecstasy and All-Russian Radio Orchestra for the concerto. Can anyone resolve this matter definitively for us.


Rob Barnett


Boheme have done the catalogue proud with this set. I trust that they will now give us Golovanov's Glazunov symphonies 5, 6 and 7 (he was to record all of them but death carried him off with only these three under the belt). Also of interest and highly spoken of are the twelve numbered Liszt tone poems, Gliere's Coloratura Concerto and Rachmaninov's Third Symphony.

I trust that Boheme will keep up the good work and also give us the Svetlanov Scriabin which is in vividly barbaric stereo sound. There are so many reissues for which we have a need including Abdullayev's Prokofiev music for Eugene Onegin (a cut above the fine Chandos set), Vassili Sinaisky's Sibelius tone poems (once to be had on Chant du Monde Russian Season - 3 CDs including the complete Lemminkainen Legends), Hannikainen's Lemminkainen Legends and Klami discs and, of top-drawer attraction, the complete Sibelius symphonies conducted by Rozhdestvensky. Oh and how about the Yuri Shaporin symphony?.

All four discs have been available during the 1990s from the Italian company Arlecchino. While we wait to see what transpires Scriabin specialists will be pleased to replace their Arlecchino CDs with these beautifully presented discs.

Rob Barnett


NOTE: Nikolai Semyonovich GOLOVANOV (1891-1953) was a Muscovite whose collegiate years were spent largely amid religious institutions. His premiere public appearance as conductor was at the Moscow Conservatoire conducting the Synodal Choir in Rachmaninov's Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. In 1909 he went to the Conservatoire studying with Ippolitov-Ivanov and Vassilenko (excellent disc of Vassilenko's works on Marco Polo). Those years were dominated by the twin stellar comets of Rachmaninov and Scriabin. On graduation he worked at the Bolshoi and in 1937 became chief conductor of the large SO of All-Union Radio and TV. His wife was the operatic soprano Antonia Nezhdanova (1873-1950). His years at the Bolshoi yielded many triumphs. Among these is Ivan Dzerzhinsky's And Quiet Flows the Don. His recording of Boris Godunov (on Arlecchino ARL3-5 and published by himself) is highly rated although I have not heard it. He was a composer with 46 works to his name: a symphony, a large-scale piano sonata, two symphonic poems (Salome and From Verhaeren), two hundred romances and two one-act operas: Princess Yurata and The Hero's Tomb. It would be good to hear some of these. We can hope that the ambitious Russian Vocal Classics series will give us a selection of the songs on disc.


Rob Barnett


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