of Russian Symphonic Music” – a better and more felicitous
translation than ”Symphony Music” which is how the Svetlanov
Foundation has translated it into English – is a huge and
valuable life work. The Foundation has released many discs
devoted to his recordings of Arensky, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff
among others. But recording details are generally sketchy
in their releases and this is no exception. This is important
because Svetlanov’s discography is not simple to get to grips
with; he re-recorded a lot, with different orchestras over
the decades, and to the studio releases we have also had
access to concert performances and broadcasts.
don’t think that there is anything new here; the Symphonies
and the Overture to Dream on the Volga were once on Olympia
OCD167 which had licensed the 1983 recordings from Melodiya
LPs. They were also available elsewhere and the same seems
to have been true of the balance of these recordings of the
suites and other orchestral music, which the Foundation has
now released on three well filled discs.
is certainly true is Svetlanov’s generosity of musical spirit
in these scores, his usual brassy control, those turns of
eloquence and beauty that animate and illuminate the music
and give it buoyancy and rhythmic zest. The First Symphony,
reminiscent of Tchaikovsky in some ways, gets off to a rip-roaring
start in this performance – and the high level recording
adds its own immediacy to the brassy drama. The lyric-pastoral
second movement however re-establishes an aura of burnish,
with the distinctive sound of the very personalised and always
eloquent State Academy [now ex but of course then still USSR
State] principal clarinettist adding lustre. Svetlanov locates
the succulent folkloric wit of the scherzo, with its admixture
of balletic lightness, and drives home the finale with bold,
masculine vivid gestures – it’s not the most tidy of performances
but it has bucket loads of intensity. The Second Symphony
begins in an altogether more leisurely fashion; there are
even some Schubertian moments. And as ever Arensky shies
away from a full-blown espressivo slow movement preferring
a more loose and light patina, one Svetlanov explores with
awareness and surety. The Intermezzo is pliant and attractive
and whilst the finale has its superficial moments it’s full
of brassy and convulsive playing. Svetlanov doesn’t omit
taking the greatest care in Variations on a theme of Tchaikovsky – it’s
richly moulded here; the variations unfolding with variety
of texture, mood, tempo and dynamic care.
G minor Suite is a charmer, a five movement work with a fugato
feint – a little academic and predictable but worthwhile – and
sporting a rather glorious Basso ostinato fourth movement
that raises the roof with its sheer memorability. Its companion,
No.2 Silhouettes, was originally composed as a suite
for two pianos but orchestrally it has some equally grand
gestures – each movement bears a suggestive title such as
Scholar, Coquette, or Clown. The final movement, Dancer,
has Iberian languor to it. The Suite from the ballet Egyptian
Nights occupied Arensky until his early death. It sounds
oddly English – or maybe such English music as it reminds
one of actually sounds like Arensky; you get the similar
odd feeling sometimes with Elgar and Glazunov. This is a
cosmopolitan, Imperial, diverting but not especially probing
piece. It has rich romanticism at its heart but the advertised
moments – Dances for Ghazies, Jewish Girls and Slaves included
- are very metropolitan affairs indeed, even a touch bourgeois.
Third Suite is altogether more modern looking. Its theme
is decidedly up-to-date and provokingly intelligent. There’s
resplendent brass in the Triumphal March – ripely done here,
of course – and it too sounds a touch Elgarian. There are
some bully beef Baroque evocations, a deliciously light Scherzo
and a powerful and unusually strong Funeral March; in the
context it’s especially so. We hear the piano in the Chopin
tribute Nocturne It’s a real hybrid suite, lacking consonance
but highly rewarding. The Fantasia “Marguerite Gautier” is
a rich and succulent affair full of warm expression. The
excerpts from Arensky’s operatic works reveal his indebtedness
to Wagner, maybe Strauss too, as well as more orthodox Russian
three fine CDs contain bold, confidently etched Arensky performances
captured in the expected up-front close-up. There are biographical
notes in Russian English concerning Svetlanov’s life and
the composer’s biography, written in fluid style and advancing
thought-provoking connections, is by Rob Barnett of MusicWeb. Arensky
and Svetlanov admirers will love these performances.
And declaring his interest
as the note contributor, Rob Barnett adds the following
background prepared for the above discs but ultimately
not used ...
No. 1 in B minor, Op. 4 [35.24]
- Allegro patetico; Andante
pastorale con moto; Scherzo - Allegro con spirito; Finale
- Allegro giocoso
No. 2 in A major, Op. 22 [22:16]
giocoso\Romanza - Adagio ma non troppo; Intermezzo,
Allegretto; Finale - Allegro moderato
a Theme of Tchaikovsky, Op. 35 [14:37]
No. 1 (1883)
was premiered in Moscow on 24 November 1883 conducted by
the 22 year old composer who had just graduated with considerable
honour. In 1882 the First Symphony of his younger compatriot,
Alexander Glazunov had been premiered.
have referred to the similarities with parts of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique -
a work lying ten years in the future. The work attracts criticism
for its structural flaws. In fact it flows well and if the
invention occasionally nods the overall effect is positive.
Certainly it merits a place alongside the Borodin 1, the
Kovalev and the two by Balakirev. The scherzo makes play
with Arensky’s favourite 5/4 time. The finale uses folk material
from Balakirev’s collection: a theme from a Spring dance
and another from a song, My little plot of earth,
sung by the Don boatmen. At least one commentator has pointed
to similarities with Borodin’s own B minor symphony.
was the year of Bruckner’s Symphony No 7; Brahms’ Symphony
No 3; Dvořák’s Scherzo Capriccioso; Parry’s Symphony
No 2, Cambridge; and Wolf’s Penthesilea, symphonic
Eduard Serov only Evgeny Svetlanov has taken up this Symphony.
No. 2 (1889)
cyclical Symphony No. 2 contrasts with the First Symphony.
While still in four movements (the first two linked) this
is over in 22 minutes. The nostalgically shimmering second
movement leads to an elegant Intermezzo. The finale is pleasing
without being a canvas for extreme emotional conflicts. It
is harmonically more wide-ranging than the First and it is
not merely short but succinct. The first two movements are
the most successful. Stravinsky’s Rimskian First Symphony
might well be recalled by the first movement.
work was premiered in Moscow on 21 December 1889 conducted
by the composer.
also saw Dvořák’s Symphony No 8; Parry’s Symphonies
No 3, English and No 4; Janáček’s Six Lachian
Dances; Macdowell’s Lamia, symphonic poem and
Glazunov’s The Forest.
a Theme of Tchaikovsky for string orchestra
Tchaikovsky admired Arensky’s music, considering it graceful
and lively, Arensky idolised Tchaikovsky and his works. It
is the difference between cool affection and unqualified
wrote of Arensky that he “... is amazingly clever in music.
The way he thinks everything over - thoroughly and correctly.
He is a very interesting musical personality". In turn
Arensky venerated Tchaikovsky’s advice .... even when it
was not uncritical of Arensky. He condemned his tendency
towards the superficial and inconsequential. The pleasant
conventionality of a typical Arensky work withers beside
the radiance of melodic content and emotional extremes of
a typical Tchaikovsky work. Also Tchaikovsky made no concessions
when he noticed that Arensky had leaned on a Tchaikovsky
hallmark - the use of 5/4 metre: “Pardon me if I force my
advice upon you .... it seems to me that the mania for 5/4
time threatens to become a habit with you ...” (Tchaikovsky,
Maidonovo, October 1885).
Moscow Arensky met Tchaikovsky, who became his friend and
mentor. Arensky returned to St. Petersburg in 1895 only a
year after completing his Op. 35 string quartet. The work
was written as an ‘in memoriam’ to Tchaikovsky. As such it
traces its lineage back to Tchaikovsky’s own A minor Piano
Trio which in turn was written in memory of Nikolai Rubinstein
who had died in 1881.
second movement of the quartet comprises seven variations
on Tchaikovsky’s song, When Jesus Christ was still a child.
Op. 54 No. 5 also known as Christ in His Garden. The
end of the movement draws on ancient Russian chant. The finale
uses the Russian hymn Slava Bogu no nebe Slava.
Variations are an arrangement by the composer for full
string orchestra of the middle movement of the Op. 35 quartet
- the second of two. The movements of the string quartet
from which the Variations are drawn are: 1. Moderato;
2. Variations on a theme of Tchaikovsky; 3. Finale.
Along with the D minor Piano Trio (the first of two;
there is another in F minor from 1906), the Variations have
done much to keep Arensky’s name alive. For example, they
were often played at the Queen’s Hall in London by Sir
Henry Wood during the 1920s.
Arensky’s Variations have
been recorded by many other distinguished conductors including
Mark Ermler, Antal Dorati, Saulius Sondeckis, Valery Polyansky,
Johannes Somary and Sir John Barbirolli. They make an aptly
complementary companion to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for
Strings complete with echoes and pre-echoes of Grieg’s Holberg
Suite and Sibelius’s Valse Triste.
Barnett, June 2004
No. 1 in G minor, Op.
on a Russian Theme; Air
de Danse; Scherzo; Basso ostinato; March
Recorded in 1987
No. 3 (Variations) in
C major, Op. 33 [29:51]
Theme; Dialogue; Waltz; Triumphal March; Minuet
(18th c.); Gavotte; Scherzo; Funeral
March; Nocturne; Polonaise
Recorded in 1987
Overture from the opera Dream on the Volga, [7:37]
Recorded in 1983
March To the Memory of Suvorov in C minor [5:43]
Recorded in 1990
five movement confection can be compared with the suites
by Tchaikovsky and Glazunov. There is storminess here but
of a type we associate with the black enchantment of The
Nutcracker. This Tchaikovskian face alternates with brief
glimpses of Rimskian oriental flavour. Indeed the Romance
is a set of variations on a theme derived from an 1876 collection
made by Rimsky-Korsakov.
was this Suite that drew the famous letter from Tchaikovsky
taking Arensky to task for use of 5/4 metre. Tchaikovsky
even rewrote the Air de Danse in 3/4 as a corrective.
This Suite No. 1 is not a transcription of the Suite No 1: Op. 15 which has
only three movements: Romance; Valse; Polonaise.
the other hand this is the same music as the two piano
Suite No. 3 transcribed for orchestra. The suite is an extended
set of variations hence the title. It is ambitious in scale.
The work is dedicated ‘À Monsieur le Baron N. de Korff’.
Arensky bends Baroque, Classical and Romantic forms to his
will. The Waltz and March work very well. The periwigged
musical box Minuet with pizzicato, piano, triangle and glockenspiel
is a tour de force of light-as-down delicacy. The Nocturne
for solo piano and orchestra is adroitly romantic in the
Son na Volge (A
Dream on the Volga) Prelude Op. 16
- Moderato assai - Allegro - Maestoso
A Dream on the Volga was Arensky’s first and most successful opera. This four
act work was written in 1888 (the year of Rimsky’s Scheherazade and Russian
Easter Festival Overture) and premiered at the
Bolshoi on 2 January 1891 to considerable success.
The prelude to the opera is an atmospheric miniature in the manner of the Liadov vignettes by turns delicate
and turbulent. It demonstrates a vigorous and fresh folksong-inflected
approach as well as considerable skill in orchestration.
The folksongs were said to be harmonised and developed with
of this work were written in Rimsky’s composition class and
in his memoirs Rimsky recalled that various numbers were
composed “partly as volunteer work and partly as class assignment
... I vividly recall his playing, in the classroom, of the
scene at the bridge, the cradle song, etc. ...” The song, Old
Woman, Lulla, lulla for mezzo is occasionally
presented in its own right.
opera was based on the play by Muscovite Alexander Nikolaivich
Ostrovsky (1823-1886), Many of his plays lampooned the pomposity
of the Moscow merchant class. His works attracted Tchaikovsky. Grozd (The
Tempest) drew a tone poem while Tchaikovsky also wrote
an opera based on the same play that had caught the attention
of Arensky. The comedy, Voivoda eeli Son na Volge (The
Military Commander, or A dream on the Volga) inspired
Tchaikovsky’s opera The Voyevoda. This is in
three acts and four scenes. It was written in 1867-8 and
premiered at the Bolshoi in January 1869 two decades before
the Arensky work. The score was destroyed by Tchaikovsky
in the 1870s and much of the first act was recycled into The
Prelude has also been recorded in the days of the LP by Gennady
March - To
the Memory of Suvorov
Count Alexander Vasilievich Suvorov (1729-1800) was a ruthless
and successful military commander. His renown was built on
his defeat of the Turks. Such was his standing that the cadaverous
hero was called out of retirement when Napoleon threatened
Russia. His campaigns included Italian victories but pushed
too far his army was defeated and he came back to St. Petersburg
in disgrace dying not long afterwards. The march carries
the marks of ponderous tragedy and glowing triumph - almost
Waltonian at the close. The figure of Suvorov also inspired
Muscovite composer, Sergey Vasilenko (1872-1956). Amongst
his five symphonies (1906; 1913; 1925 The Italian;
1933 The Arctic; 1938) and many concertos there is
a single grand opera called Suvorov after S. Krzhizhanovsky.
It was written in 1941.
The March was recorded previously
on 14 May 1973 by Rozhdestvensky who conducted the All-Union
Radio and Television Orchestra. This was issued on Russian
Revelation RV 10083.
Barnett, June 2005
from the ballet Egyptian Nights, Op. 50a [21:19]
Overture; Dance of Arsinoe and Slaves; Dance of Jewish Girls; Dance
of Ghazies; Snake-Charmer; Pas de deux. Waltz; Anthony's
No. 2 for Symphony Orchestra, Op. 23 [17:57]
2. Coquette; 3. Clown; 4. Dreamer; 5. Dancer.
Intermezzo in G minor for Strings, Op. 13 [3:14]
Recorded in 1990
Fantasia on Themes of Ryabinin for Piano and
Orchestra, Op. 48 [9:06]
Gautier, fantasia for orchestra, Op. 9 (1886) [12:21]
Recorded in 1990
the opera Nal and Damayanti [6:44]
Introduction to musical scenes from the Renaissance Raphael [6:43]
Recorded in 1990
plays of Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin (1799-1837) have attracted
many musical settings. Yevgeny Onegin, 1833 is the
basis for Tchaikovsky's opera of the same name and for Prokofiev’s
incidental music. Pikovaya Dama or The
Queen of Spades or Pique Dame, 1834 became an
opera by Tchaikovsky. Mednyi Vsadnik or The Bronze
Horseman, 1837, was the basis for a ballet by Gliere. Kamenny
Gost or The Stone Guest, 1839, was made
into an opera by Dargomizhsky.
monologue Yegipetskiye Nochi or Egyptian Nights dates
from 1835 and was left incomplete on Pushkin’s death. Arensky’s
one act and fifty minute ballet, loosely based on Pushkin,
was composed in 1900 for Michel Fokine. This grandly Tchaikovskian
ballet was premiered in St. Petersburg at
the Maryinsky Theatre on 21 March
1908 two years after Arensky’s death. It had been commissioned
for a visit to St Petersburg by the Shah of Persia but the
visit failed to materialise. Arensky claimed to have included
themes based on authentic Persian melodic material although
the music is devoid of anything obviously exotic. The lead
dancers for the premiere were Anna Pavlova and Pavel Gerdt.
Vaclav Nijinsky danced a minor role in the same work. The
ballet had gathered dust on a shelf at the Maryinsky
Theatre for eight years after its composition.
Diaghilev did not like the piece but even so some of its numbers combined
with those of Taneyev, Rimsky, Glinka and Glazunov gained
performances under the title of Cléopatre and did
well for Diaghilev in his "Russian Seasons" at
the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on 2 June 1909. The costumes
were by Leon Bakst. The lead dancers were Anna Pavlova, Vaclav
Nijinsky, Ida Rubinstein, Michel Fokine, and Tamara Karsavina.
By the time the plot had become a love affair between Cleopatra
and her slave Amour.
A year later, capitalising on the Cleopatra success,
Fokine and Diaghilev presented the world premiere of Stravinsky’s
ballet The Firebird at the Grand Opera in Paris on
25 June 1910. In the same programme there was another premiere
much overshadowed by the Stravinsky. This was a piece called Les
Orientales with music by Glazunov, Sinding, Grieg, Borodin
and Arensky. Nijinsky and Karsavina were the lead dancers.
Nights is in fourteen movements of which
seven are included in the suite heard here. The full complement
is: Overture No.1: Scene and
Coquetry Dance No.2: Entry of Cleopatra and Scene No.3:
Dance of Arsinoë and the Slaves No.4 (which has gained
some currency as a piece in its own right): Dance of Berenice
and Scene No.5: Poisoning Scene No.6: Dance of the Jewish
Girls No.7: Snake-charmer: Dance of the Egyptian Girls
No.8: Snake-charmer: Second Dance of Arsinoë No.9 Dance
of the Ghazis Harp cadenza No.10: Tempo di valse No.11:
Allegro moderato No.12: Solemn Entry of Antony No.13 Finale.
was not the only Arensky work inspired by Pushkin. Apart
from the songs there is also Arensky’s music to Pushkin’s The
Fountain of the Bakhchisarai also set during the 1930s
by Boris Asafiev as a ballet.
was not alone in being drawn to the Egyptian Nights theme.
In 1933 Prokofiev composed some stage music for Alexander
Tairov’s exotic conflation of Shakespeare, Shaw and Pushkin.
This was premiered in a radio broadcast on 21 December 1934
in Moscow. The concert premiere came on 22 December 1938.
Arensky Suite has also been recorded by conductors Dimitri
Yablonsky and Boris Demchenko.
The Suite No. 2 (Silhouettes) has movements as follows: Le Savant; La Coquette; Polichinelle; Le
Rêveur; La Danseuse. These character sketches
feature a Beethovenian Savant with Stokowskian grandiloquence,
a nonchalant Coquette, a chuckling somersaulting clown
with more than a nod towards Glazunov, an Elgarian nostalgic
Dreamer, and a rambunctiously Spanish Dancer. The
third movement shares in its alternative French title the
title of a character piano solo by Arensky’s pupil, Rachmaninov.
This suite, in its format for two pianos, was a special
favourite of the writer Leo Tolstoy who placed Arensky
above all other Russian composers: "Of the new ones
Arensky is the best. His music is simple and melodious".
The Suite has also been recorded
by Neeme Järvi, Konstantin Ivanov, Nikolai Anosov, and Maxim
G minor for Strings
isolated Intermezzo was dedicated to the Moscow Musical Circle.
It bustles and flutters; in mood not a million miles from
the snowy gales that ply the pine forests in Glazunov’s Winter.
Ryabinin was a Russian ethnomusicologist who assiduously
collected a massive treasury of folk songs. He was a master
of epic tales otherwise facts about him seem impossible to
come by. Having once heard Ryabinin at a concert, Arensky
was so impressed that he immediately began sketching out
musical illustrations to the Ryabinin stories. Though not
a professional pianist Arensky determined to perform his
piano pieces himself. One of Arensky's pupils, the pianist
Matvei Pressman (childhood friend of Rachmaninov and dedicatee
of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Sonata, 1914), recalled that
although Arensky’s technique was clumsy he "managed
to extract excellent sound". Arensky was the soloist
at the premiere of the Ryabinin Fantasia. It is a
flourishingly romantic movement which might well recall the
Grieg Piano Concerto and the Second Piano Concerto of Saint-Saëns
to some ears. Towards the close there is even a brief presentiment
of Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto.
inspiration for this Fantasia lies in the 1848 novel La
Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas (jr.) (1824-1895)
- known as ‘Dumas fils’. The music moves from an evocation
of the Bohemian bustle of Gautier’s life to a decidedly Tchaikovskian
romantic wash and backwash. Dumas made his reputation with
this story of a heroine prostitute giving up her lover rather
than seeing him become a social outcast. The story echoes
the real life tale of Rose Alphonsine Plessis. Rose later
took another name, Marie Duplessis. In the Dumas novel she
was Marguerite Gautier. In Verdi's opera, La Traviata,
she became Violetta Valéry.
story has a strong draw and has been filmed several times.
Sarah Bernhardt, was filmed by Henri Pouctal and Paul Capellani
in the first production. Then came various other versions
in 1915, 1916, 1917 (with Theda Bara), and 1921 with Nazimova
and Rudolph Valentino. Its most famous film version was Camille in
1936 directed by George Cukor and starring Robert Taylor
and Greta Garbo.
the opera Nal and Damayanti Op. 47
sostenuto - Allegretto - Allegro moderato - Presto - Andante
sostenuto - Allegretto
German poet Rückert (whose verse inspired Mahler) initially
had his successes with translations of Oriental poetry and
of original poetry in the spirit of the Orient. In 1828 he
translated Nal und Damayanti, an Indian tale and
ten years later Rostem und Sohrab, eine Heldengeschichte. The
latter may be known to some English listeners as the same
tale used in Matthew Arnold’s narrative
poem Sohrab and Rustum.
opera follows a version of the story by Vladimir Zhukhovsky. Nal'i Damayanti (Nal
and Damayanti) from Indian legend was written in 1903.
Its premiere was given at the Bolshoi on 22 January 1904. The
music is highly picturesque, full of fantastic shimmering
colour and somewhat Wagnerian perhaps not that far removed
from Holst’s contemporary Sanskrit opera Sita. It
is not especially exotic at least not in the way that Rimsky-Korsakov
or Adolphe Biarent might have chosen to colour it.
plot involves King Nal losing his empire in a game of dice
played at the capital Naal Ka Tila. He is sent out into the
jungle with his wife Damayanti. Racked with guilt at the
hardship he has inflicted on Damayanti he leaves her in the
hope that she will return to her parents. Nal wanders the
jungle. Nal saves a huge snake who as it turns out is the
deity Karkotak in disguise. The snake then helps Nal in a
scheme to win back his realm and be reconciled with his consort.
Introduction to musical scenes from the Renaissance: Raphael
Raphael: Musical scenes from the
the third and last of the Arensky operas. It was written
in 1894 for the First Congress of Russian Artists and premiered
at the Moscow Conservatory on 6 May 1894. St Petersburg saw a revival on 25 December 1895. The libretto is
by A. Kryukov and tells the story of the Italian Renaissance
artist, Rafael. The music is indebted to Tchaikovsky and
rises to raw Manfred-like intensity. It is an extremely
capable piece and deserves to be much better known. The
whole opera, which is one act, was recorded by Melodiya
in 1957 by V. Smirnov and the Moscow Radio Orchestra and
Chorus (D 03502728). The part of Raphael Sancio is sung
by a mezzo, Fornarina by a soprano and Kardinal Bibiena
by a bass.
more recently it was recorded on Delos DE 3319 with Marina
Domashenko, Tatiana Pavlovskaya, Alexander Vinogradov and
Vsevolod Grivnov with the Spiritual Revival Choir of Russia
and Philharmonia of Russia conducted by Constantin Orbelian.
The same disc also included six of Arensky’s songs and Domashenko
singing Zarema's aria from The Fountain of Bakhchisarai.
heart throbs also known as Song
of the Off-Stage Singer has regularly been excerpted
as a tenor showpiece. There are recordings by Sergei Lemeshev,
Leonid Sobinov (1868-1934) and, most recently, Vladimir
libretto, although only in Russian, can be found at the Karadar
Barnett, June 2005
(or Yevgeny) Fyodorovich SVETLANOV was born in Moscow on 6 September 1928.
father was a soloist in the Bolshoi. His mother née Kruglikova,
was a singer and mime artist. She appeared as Tatyana in “Eugene
Onegin” and as Cio-Cio San in “Madama Butterfly”. Both parents
encouraged the young Svetlanov in his musical studies. He
attended first at the Gnesin Music Institute
graduating in 1951. There he had worked at composition with
Mikhail Gnesin and at piano with Mariya Gurvich who, with
Svetlanov, was later to contribute decisively to the Medtner
revival in Russia.
pianist Nina Moznaïm Svetlanova, remembered that during her
years in the Gnesin School she played, for several years,
in a piano duet with Svetlanov. “We played through almost
the entire symphonic and operatic repertoire. In addition,
our duet became well known among young Soviet composers.
We were constantly asked to play the new compositions for
the Officials of the Ministry of Culture. This was the only
way, in those years, for the young composers to get approval
young man then moved to the Moscow Conservatory where his
composition tutor was Yuri Shaporin (whose great choral trilogy
he was later to record). Alexander Gauk, the founder in 1936
of the USSRSO, was his professor of conducting. His piano
professor was the great Heinrich Neuhaus.
a student in 1953 he won a competition chaired by Alexander
Melik-Pashayev and as a result conducted at the Bolshoi,
first as assistant conductor, then becoming the orchestra’s
principal in 1962. His first opera there was "The Maid
of Pskov" by Rimsky-Korsakov. In 1953 he also conducted
with the All-Union Radio. He took the orchestra to the stage
of La Scala Milan in 1964 - an historic event.
Georgy Sviridov said of Svetlanov: "I think [that he was] created
for the opera and it makes me sad that he has worked so little
in this art. There can be no better conductor for the Russian
opera. The Russian opera is a great and grandiose art. It
includes dramatism and the national character".
was also a singer. He appeared at the Bolshoi at the age
of three as the son of Puccini's Madama Butterfly.
Later he sang in the Bolshoi children's choir. To bring the
life story full circle he conducted his last performance
of Puccini’s opera in Montpellier just one month before his
1965 he was appointed principal conductor of the most prestigious
orchestra in the Soviet Union, the USSR Symphony Orchestra.
He had first conducted them in 1954. He stayed with them
as their artistic director until 1999. That orchestra has
been known since the end of the Soviet regime as the Russian
State Symphony Orchestra and latterly as the Russian Federation
Academic Symphony Orchestra. With them he recorded over a
period of quarter of a century ‘The Anthology of Russian
Music’. This Anthology, for the first time receiving sustained
and systematic issue under this label, comprises the symphonic
works of Glinka, Dargomizhsky, Balakirev, Liadov, Rimsky-Korsakov,
Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, Rachmaninov, Liapunov,
Kalinnikov, Scriabin and Miaskovsky.
The USSR Symphony Orchestra
was handsomely funded in those days with some 12 hours of rehearsal
for familiar programmes and 18 for more challenging confections.
His experience with European orchestras left him convinced
that the rapid paced treadmill of concert after concert made
for an oppressive workload.
bore the title of the USSR People's Artist awarded to him
in 1968, the highest honour in the Soviet Union. He won the
Lenin Prize in 1972 and the Order of Lenin in 1978. In 1998,
Boris Yeltsin accorded him national birthday honours on his
70th birthday. He was however no cipher to the State. He
helped those considered beyond the pale including violinist
Oleg Kagan, cellist Natalia Gutman, pianist Nikolai Petrov,
fellow conductors and outcasts Kirill Kondrashin and Veronika
Dudarova. What is more he made no secret of his support for
these artists. He was not a member of the Communist Party.
inaugural tour of the UK was inauspiciously timed. It came
in 1968 in the wake of the USSR’s invasion of Czechoslovakia.
At the start of his Royal Albert Hall concert there were
shouted protests and disruption.
Since 1980, like Stokowski, he conducted without baton.
He came to the view that the stick was an obstacle to communication. "The
biological currents, the emanations are at my fingertips.
The energy I receive from the orchestra is sent back by
me. This forms a magnetic field.”
Svetlanov was well known for his interpretations of Russian works
- he covered the whole range of Russian music from Glinka
to the latest works. The works of Shostakovich, Shaporin,
Prokofiev, Shchedrin, Knipper, Boiko, Shebalin, Khachaturian
and Eshpai have also appeared on his programmes, recorded,
live and broadcast.
However he has also recorded complete symphonic cycles by
Mahler, Bruckner and Brahms. His programmes also included
Richard Strauss, Bach, Debussy, Mozart and Bizet. He conducted
a performance of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius with the
London Symphony Orchestra in 1981. And this was no one-off
either. On 11 April 1977 at the Moscow State Conservatoire
he had conducted USSR State Symphony Orchestra in the Elgar
Second Symphony; a bruisingly emotional performance - almost
was also a composer and wrote symphonic, chamber, and vocal
music, including a piano concerto, symphony and much else.
was married to Russian soprano Larissa Avdeyeva with whom
he recorded extensively including Elgar’s Sea Pictures.
She appears in many of his other recordings including the
glorious Shaporin choral trilogy ((1) On the Field of
Kulikovo "Na pole Kulikovom", symphony-cantata,
op.14; (2) Battle for the Russian Homeland "Skazaniye
o bitve za Russkuyu zemlyu", oratorio, op. 17; (3) How
Long Shall the Kite Fly? "Dokole
korshunu kruzhit'" oratorio). The
trilogy is much in need of revival as also is Shaporin’s
was an idealist and was bewildered and sometimes angered
by the timidity of audiences and concert managements. In
the USA in 1986 he offered programmes that included Scriabin’s
Second Symphony only to have them turned them down in favour
of more familiar fare.
orchestras were not his only collaborators. In 1979, he became
principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra
and also worked with the Residentie Orchestra of the Hague.
He was chief conductor between 1992 and 2000. He was to have
conducted his own symphony in The Hague in May 2002. His
final concert took place in London in April 2002
also conducted and recorded with the Philharmonia including
a Scheherazade and Glazunov’s The Seasons.
He worked with the leading orchestras of Japan, France and
Sweden. His Phono-Suecia recordings of the symphonic works
of Nystroem (a superb recording of Sinfonia del Mare vying
with the classic Westerberg) and Alfvén should not be overlooked.
He often conducted the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Amongst his last concerts with them was an all-Chausson programme
on 22 February 2002. It comprised: Poème for violin
and orchestra, the Poème de l’amour et de la mer and
the late 1980s, with Svetlanov conducting often for months
outside Russia, he spent less time with his orchestra. In
April 2000 Mikhail Shvydkoi, the Minister of Culture sacked
There were many facets to Svetlanov. He
was a skilled pianist and in that capacity made several
discs of music by Medtner for Russian Disc. He was also
recorded as orator reading the poetry of Vladimir Mayakovsky,
one of his favourite poets.
was also a composer and his works have been issued on three
Russian Disc CDs.
"In music, I am conservative". This is how Yevgeny Svetlanov
describes his work. "Apparently, I am one of the last
romantics. I want to have my soul, not only my head, involved
in the music I perform.” Atonality held no attraction for
him at all.
tended to be a very distant personality so far as his players
were concerned. However his technique was said to be very
solidly grounded with extremely clear gestures. He was most
at ease in Russian and used very little other languages.
During the intermissions he would sit at the podium studying
the score apparently impervious to anything going on around
at the time of his death recalled his great Tchaikovsky but
also his advocacy of the rarer pieces including symphonies
by Scriabin's (2 and 3), Miaskovsky (25), Taneyev (4), Glazunov
(4 and 5), Balakirev and Bloch's Israel symphony.
A ‘biopic’ was
made of his life in the Soviet film ‘Dirizhor’ (The Conductor)
He died in his Moscow apartment at the age of 74 on
3 May 2002.
Vedernikov said of him: "A whole era has ended with
him; there is no one who can exactly match his greatness.
Yevgeny Svetlanov was so strikingly individual that some
of his interpretations cannot simply be performed in any
a full account of Svetlanov’s life and works go to the Svetlanov
Barnett, June 2004
Russian Federation Academic Symphony Orchestra
The Russian Federation Academic Symphony Orchestra previously
known as the Russian State Symphony Orchestra and before
that as the USSR Symphony Orchestra is the leading Russian
orchestra. It was founded during the early 1930s by a group
of orchestral musicians headed by Alexander Gauk who together
decided to jump ship from other Moscow-based orchestras.
The new orchestra had its inaugural concert at the Grand
Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in October 1936. A few months
later it was on tour throughout the Soviet Union.
It has had five distinguished music directors: Alexander
Gauk (1936-41), Nathan Rakhlin (1941- 45), Konstantin Ivanov
(1946-65), Evgeny Svetlanov (1965-2000), and latterly Vassili
Sinaisky. The composer-pianists Shostakovich, Khrennikov,
Babajanyan and Shchedrin have each performed their own concertos
with the orchestra.
The Orchestra’s first foreign tour took place in 1957. It
was the first Soviet symphony orchestra to do this. Its first
tour to the USA in 1960 reached its climax with a spectacular
concert in Madison Square Gardens, New York.
Barnett, August 2004