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Franz LISZT (1811-1866)
Bergsymphonie (Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne) (1848) [32:56]
Prometheus (1850-1855) [14.02]
Mazeppa (1851-1854) [15.28]
Etude after Paganini no. 5 in E major [2:31]
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9 - The Carnival at Pesth [10:15]
Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra/Nikolai Golovanov
Emil Gilels (piano) (Etude; Rhapsody)
Rec. Moscow, 1952-3 (Liszt); live, 1946 (Gilels). Mono. ADD
ARCHIPEL ARPCD 0279 [76.07]

Nikolai Semionovich Golovanov was born in Moscow on 21 January 1891. He died on 28 August 1953, one year after he was stripped of his chief conductor role at the Bolshoi. Such was the fate of those who fell from Party favour. His conducting style helped to shape both Samuel Samosud and Evgeny Svetlanov.

Golovanov’s readings smoke with fervour; crackle with galvanic force. This can be heard in the wonderful Boheme reissues from 1998-2000 (better than the Arlecchino versions) as well as this conductor’s volume (CZS 7243 5 75112 2 3) in the EMI/IMG ‘Great Conductors of the Century’ series. Boheme gave us Golovanov’s Scriabin, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Kalinnikov as well as his Mozart Requiem, Every one of those recordings speaks to the listener as an event - not as a routine gap-filler. He seems to have been immune from microphone nerves although he must surely have taken a Toscanini-like toll on the constitutions of his comrade players.

All twelve of the Liszt tone poems were orchestrated by Joachim Raff and dedicated to Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein. Prometheus and Mazeppa were on the GCOTC 2CD set but the major Bergsymphonie is, I think, new to CD. Golovanov also recorded Orpheus; Héroïde Funèbre; Festklänge; Tasso; Hungaria and Hunnenschlacht. Whatever happened to Les Préludes?
Golovanov applies his usual intemperate emotionalism to these faded scores. He has the sonorous gift of making them sound greater music than they are. When you hear Golovanov take a score like Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne by the throat you wonder at the music. He brings out so many aspects: rumbling tension, brash triumphalism, romantic Franckian gestures long before Franck's first tone poem. The hurricane at 6.03 prefigures the whirlwinds of Tchaikovsky's Francesca and of Sibelius's En Saga. The awed tam-tam strokes at 7:47 and 9.30 evoke Rachmaninov's Isle of the Dead and Tchaikovsky's Hamlet. Berlioz's phantasmally brilliant imagination seems also to be in the wings. Then at 11.03 the restless skirling of the strings recalls the scherzo of Scriabin's First Symphony. Unlike other mountain works (Novak's In the Tatras, Delius's Song of the High Hills, d'Indy's Symphonie sur Un Chant Montagnard) this garrulous piece, while strong on atmosphere and dramatic incident, is stop-go and occasionally resorts to the fragrant bombast of Les Préludes (22:00 and 25:40). It's an extraordinary work nevertheless but there is an even better more concentrated one somewhere in those pages.
Prometheus begins with the same buzzing tension as Bergsymphonie. Flames seem to lick the heels of the orchestra in the first whooping allegro. Mazeppa conveys the wild night gallop in plunging figures which takes us forward to Sibelius’s Lemminkainen homeward journey. Then again the bombastic element - with no punches pulled - casts a pall over proceedings at 1:20. However there are some gorgeous effects that emerge without too much audio harm from the ex-Melodiya LP grooves.
As an add-on we are given two Liszt piano solos played by the very young Emil Gilels. These are from 1946. The sound is boxy and there is some gentle distortion. All the same, Gilels' legerdemain and weighty virtuosity are fully in evidence.
Archipel offer no annotation except the usual discographical details. The cover uses a nicely colourised picture of Golovanov conducting. It was presumably taken from a Melodiya LP sleeve.

After the recent recordings of the piano concerto by another conductor Issay Dobrowen and of the works of Klemperer, Schnabel and Furtwängler, can we hope for recordings of Golovanov’s own music? There are two operas: The Hero’s Tomb and Princess Yurata as well as symphonies, the tone poems Salome and From Verhaeren and suites, songs and choral music. If they breathe the same high octane mix that he injected into his interpretations of other composers’ music we are in for something very special.

While this is a most useful CD in making available the substantial yet flawed Bergsymphonie the way still lies open for a Golovanov set of the Liszt tone poems.

Rob Barnett


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