> GOLOVANOV CZS5751122 [RB]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Nikolai Semionovich GOLOVANOV

Great Conductors of the Twentieth Century - volume 8
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)

Symphony No. 6 [35.27]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1865-1936)

A Midsummer Night's Dream: Overture and Scherzo [16.57]
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

1812 Overture [14.48]
Franz LISZT (1811-1866)

Orpheus [11.16]; Héroïde Funèbre [21.05]; Mazeppa [15.27]; Festklänge [17.58]; Prometheus [13.57]
Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra/Golovanov
rec Moscow, 1952 (Mendelssohn, Glazunov); 1952-3 (Liszt); 1948 (Tchaikovsky) Mono ADD
Live recording: Tchaikovsky
EMI CLASSICS CZS 7243 5 75112 2 3 [2CDs: 79.00+68.57] lower midprice


AmazonUK   AmazonUS

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 Preludes?

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 miss this.

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.

Rob Barnett


Nikolay Golovanov
Alexander Scriabin - First Symphony
CDBMR 907081
1. Lento
2. Allegro dramatico
3. Lento
4. Vivace
5. Allegro
6. Andante

Review of these Scriabin issues
Nikolay Golovanov
Alexander Scriabin - Second Symphony
CDBMR 907082
1. Andante
2. Allegro
3. Andante
4. Tempestoso
5. Maestoso
Nikolay Golovanov
Alexander Scriabin - Third Symphony and Poem of Ecstasy
CDBMR 907083

Nikolay Golovanov
Alexander Scriabin
CDBMR 908087
1. Concerto for piano and orchestra in F sharp minor op.20
2. Reverie op.24
3. Prometheus (Poem of Fire) op.60
Nikolay Golovanov
Vassily Kalinnikov - Symphony No 1
1. Peter Tchaikovsky - "Francesca da Rimini" Fantasia
2. Vassily Kalinnikov - First Symphony in G minor
Nikolay Golovanov

Peter Tchaikovsky
Symphony No 6
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

Return to Index

Error processing SSI file