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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Overture: The Creatures of Promtheus: Overture Op.43 (1801)[5:12)
Symphony No.4 in B-flat major Op.60 (1806) [34:21]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Flute Concerto No.1 K.313 (cadenzas by Nikolai Platonov)(1778)[23:46]
Eduard Scherbachev (flute)
Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Kondrashin
rec. 1964 (Mozart), 1965 (Prometheus), 1967 (Symphony). ADD
MELODIYA MEL CD 10-01007 [62:23]


With the Melodiya label seemingly reborn we are lucky enough to be offered again some marvellous recordings. Some of these have not been available for many years and in the case of some countries they have never been available.

The great Russian conductor Kirill Kondrashin is well known, of course, for his many recordings of Soviet music; his Shostakovich cycle is among his best-known work. His craftsmanship in ‘western’ repertoire was displayed in that precious but limited edition series of live recordings with the Concertgebouw Orchestra which was available for a short time on Philips. These were supplemented by occasional releases on other labels such as Emergo, Etcetera and Tahra. Although the quality of the performances is uneven, there were some considerable gems that displayed Kondrashin’s mastery in a wide range of repertoire. Unknown to many until recently, Kondrashin was one of the great Mahler conductors and his recordings of these works, particularly those with non-Soviet orchestras, are well worth seeking out. Among the Philips issues is a wonderful Beethoven Eroica from the Concertgebouw in March 1979. What this reveals is a muscular, straightforward and seemingly historically-aware interpreter of Beethoven. This Eroica has an unfettered forward drive and an unfussy approach that simply lets the great music speak for itself, albeit with a tight grip on architecture and dynamics.

The Beethoven works on this Melodiya reissue are similarly robust and uncluttered. The disc opens with a very fleet yet not overly light-footed Prometheus Overture after a very broad introduction. Broad, but still with that wonderful momentum that characterises Kondrashin’s Beethoven performances.

The performance of the Fourth Symphony was available on LP in the United States on the Seraphim label but, as far as I can recall, was never issued in the UK. This performance of one of Beethoven’s most unjustly underplayed works is a joy from beginning to end. The brooding introduction to the first movement displays Kondrashin’s famous mastery of extreme dynamics – seldom can it have been more hushed than it is here. When we are launched into the main body of the movement - complete with exposition repeat - everything sounds completely inevitable and natural. The Moscow Philharmonic strings are as marvellously strong as you would expect and the woodwind slightly piquant à la 1960s Soviet style, which lends a slightly ‘period’ sound to the orchestra.

The beautiful Adagio has a marvellous flow and also shows some very controlled quiet woodwind playing to comply with Kondrashin’s well-documented insistence on very quiet pianissimos. The Menuetto in this work is even less of a menuetto than it was in the first two symphonies. This is a full-blown Beethovenian scherzo, delivered here with much aplomb and with a trio that some might think just a little too slow. The finale is as good as you will hear, with bubbling clarinets, strident oboes and a wonderfully agile bassoon adding to the frivolity of this, one of Beethoven’s most playful movements in a performance that delights at every turn.

The Mozart First Flute Concerto will be more of a curiosity for many listeners. Speeds in all movements will be a little on the slow side for some tastes and the flute sound is not what one might expect. Again, typical of the vintage and provenance, this is a pleasant, slightly thin-sounding flute with a barely-perceptible but fairly fast vibrato, Some might, as I did, soon get used to this and prefer it over some of the over-fruity flute solos we are offered today. The performance is fine enough but perhaps lacking the final degree of grace and delicacy which this music needs.

The sound in the Beethoven works is very good indeed for its mid-1960s Moscow vintage, with none of the unnerving instrumental highlighting that sometimes blights recordings from this source. The Mozart transfer is slightly less good, with slightly unfocused string sound and a forward balance for the soloist. This, however, neatly compensates for the flute’s small sound. The orchestra is the ‘Moscow Philharmonic’ – the ‘Symphony’ bit of the title being from the full Soviet name – of which Kondrashin was principal conductor 1960-75.

Derek Warby




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