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Alexander Gauk Edition – Historical Russian Archives
see end of review for details
USSR State Radio and TV Orchestras/Alexander Gauk
rec. 1944-1961, Moscow.
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 8866 [10 CDs: 688:32]
Experience Classicsonline

These Gauk-conducted rarities are gritty but often very listenable. They draw you into the largely lost world of Soviet concert halls and radio studios in the period 1944-61. Taken from broadcasts - some with applause – they were made by the Soviet broadcasting network and have been licensed to Brilliant by Gostelradiofund.
Aleksandr Vassilievich Gauk was born on 15 August (O.S. 3 August) 1893 and died 30 March 1963. Both conductor and composer, he was chief conductor of the Leningrad Phil (1930-1934). He conducted the orchestra and the Academy Capella Choir in the world premiere of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 3 "First of May" in 1931. He also resurrected Rachmaninov's discarded First Symphony from the orchestral parts found in the archives of the Moscow Conservatory after the composer's death in 1943. Gauk born in Odessa. He was the teacher of Melik-Pashayev, Mravinsky and Svetlanov. At the Petrograd Conservatory he studied composition and conducting with Glazunov and Nikolai Tcherepnin. He succeeded Nikolai Malko, first director of the USSR State Symphony in 1936 and director of the All-Union Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1953. Gauk premiered Shostakovich's ballets 'The Golden Age' and 'The Bolt'.
Many of the recordings included here are live so what you hear is not the same article you may know from ancient LPs or in more recent times the very few Gauk-centred issues such as his derided Shostakovich Eighth Symphony issued on Russian Revelation.
Gauk, the teacher of Mravinsky and Svetlanov has come in for much ad hominem criticism centred on his reputation as a Party hack. The present set comes as part corrective and in the case of the Spartacus suite part confirmation. To experience it you must be prepared to accept some mono and a degree of unsophisticated sound - though with little distortion. It’s much better  than you might fear and you are more likely to come away from the experience with admiration for the Soviet engineers of that distant era.
There are real strengths amid this generous swathe of archive recordings. These include the swell-chested brass and screechingly idiomatic woodwind in the second movement of the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony on CD1. Learn to love those harmonium-warbling Russian horns in the finale of Shostakovich 5 at 3.33. Audience coughs, shuffles and applause (often understated) are also to be borne - I find them of negligible distraction value in the face of some fascinating and fiery playing.
We also hear a sturdy Rachmaninov Three Russian Folk Songs with a bubblingly gallic interplay of avian woodwind. Gauk's stirringly raw Powder and Paint has real gypsy 'grunt' and 'snort'. The same composer's Spring Cantata is taken by Evgeny Kibkalo (bar) with lean and piercing power. This work reminds us of the same composer's The Bells - one which the composer loved among all his creations.
The Shostakovich 11 is tense and bristlingly atmospheric. Listen to those resounding low pizzicatos in the third movement and the carrion black-bleak brass in the Tocsin movement. However do not expect the reserved applause to do anything to tell you about the qualities of Gauk's version.
Rimsky's Song of Oleg The Wise offers yet more defiant and unsubtle heroism and gruff militarism. It is mixed with moments as unnervingly light as a Suppé overture. Enjoy this rare Rimsky but brace yourself. Tarkhov, the tenor is magnificent with a real erotic kick to his high notes. Where else have we heard Tarkhov?
I found many of the Spartacus pieces rather perfunctory. While it is true that much of the material is kitsch on steroids, derivative material on stimulants, it can and often does sing with a more potent thrust than it gets here - even in the famous Adagio.
Glinka's Premiere Polka is mordant and raspingly violent in Gauk's hands - lots of attack with bone-china music-box qualities admitted; all rather attractive. Then comes the strutting grandeur of the Glinka Kamarinskaya.
Khachaturian's First Symphony is broodingly done as if Gauk is urgently confiding a secret to the listener. The writing is full of tense interest with that typical Armenian exoticism. This is a big 43 minute statement of the eternal verities as befits a symphony. Music that is magical and often orientally-tinged dewy conveys a slowly oozing poetry. This can be contrasted with an extravagant jerky ebullience in the finale which does dally just a little too closely to bombast at the close. This after all has always been a Khachaturian failing. Apart from a certain steely shrillness the analogue sound is sympathetically put across.
Commercially Gauk recorded quite a bit of Khachaturyan including the first two symphonies, the violin concerto with Oistrakh and the Cello Concerto with Knushevitsky.
The Hummel-based Memory of Friendship is a supercharged and romanticised version by Glinka of Hummel's Theme and Variations in F major. At the other extreme is Glinka's crashing and imperiously imperial Patriotic Song. It is all rather empty but skilled of its type.

Myaskovsky's Symphony No. 17 is also one of five Myaskovsky symphonies recorded by Gauk for Melodiya (11, 17, 18, 22, 27). This broadcast is from 1959 almost a decade after the composer's death. It warms up but this performance struck me as rather tottery. It just didn't cohere as well as the passionate recording by Svetlanov. Things improve for the excitement of the allegro poco vivace third movement. Gauk is in general good at brooding which plays to one of Myaskovsky's fortes. He is less effective in this case in the more dramatic moments. Was age taking its toll? Even so Gauk does pull things together for a final five minutes which spit fire and flail with passion.
Soviet radio's engineers pull all the stops out for a very fine recording of the cantata Flourish Mighty Homeland by Myaskovsky's close friend, Prokofiev. It is here caught in a broadcast eight years after the composer's death. The orchestral introduction is cheery in the manner of the Classical Symphony then comes a bristlingly possessed choral section. The idiom is rather closely related to the positivism of the Seventh Symphony complete with saxophone to close and in this case applause. Prokofiev's Russian Overture flies along with all his brusque energy as if from The Love of Three Oranges and here sounding just a mite similar to Copland's ballets. The final few moments have a raw trumpet-scarred elevation and rowdy complexity - very stage-grand.
Nikolai Ivanov-Radkevich's similarly titled Russian Overture was recorded in April 1944 but sounds much later. It is a raucous supercharged fantasy on Russian dances.
Tchaikovsky caused confusion when over-titling a sequence of pieces with the names of months The Seasons. Here we have Gauk conducting his own orchestration of the twelve pieces. They are presented not in chronological sequence so, for example, December follows February and is succeeded by September. Gauk does a respectable job of aping the Tchaikovsky orchestrational signatures but is no slave to the principle. February clearly looks forward to the early twentieth century. March - Song of the Lark is occasionally almost Sibelian. However December and the final piece, April follow the grand waltz manner of Tchaikovsky's ballets. April ends in a gentle feminine turning away into silence.
Balakirev's piano fantasy was orchestrated by Alfredo Casella, amongst others including Lyapunov. Gauk adopts the Casella version and holds this rhapsodic and mercurially exotic music together far better than he was to do a couple of years later in the sessions from Myaskovsky's Seventeenth Symphony.
Glazunov's Spring is a snow-jewelled picture in which ice can be heard ripplingly melting off trees into stirring brooks and streams. This is vintage Glazunov in the poetic manner of The Seasons. Then comes the little Waltz op. 42 no. 3 - a brother to the waltzes in Nutcracker.
Arensky was an out-and-out Tchaikovsky-epigone; nothing wrong with that. His March in memory of the great Russian marshal Suvorov, has more fibre and sincere invention to it than many a time-served state celebratory piece. This strangely pre-echoes Walton's and Rawsthorne's ceremonial manner. The orchestration of In the Fields is caramel smooth and soothingly sentimental. Waltzes are a feature of disc 6 so it is fitting that after at least three we should end with the orchestration of Arensky's waltz in F major. It is swimmingly done by Gauk and the USSR State Radio and TV SO.
CD 7 includes yet more rare Tchaikovsky - a feature of this set: the Hamlet theatre music. The Overture with its roiling discontent and drum-rolls uses similar material to his tone poem on the same Shakespeare subject. There's some utterly superb music here and it is no wonder that Tchaikovsky recycled it into the tone poem; listen to the wraith music for the first and second Moderato assai. The stately fanfaring of the allegro vivo suffers some blasting distortion when loud. There are two other fanfare passages in tracks 7 and 13. The andante quasi allegretto has a more tender yet trembling quality. The soprano (unnamed) in the Elsinore Mad Scene (tr. 10) benefits from Tchaikovsky's ability to breathe hysteria into the orchestral writing. The andantino introduces us to the baritone who is slightly nasal in tone but who has a splendidly sound vocal production. The Marcia is familiar and no wonder - the metronome ostinato is the same as in the march from the Fifth Symphony.
After the episodic but atmospheric progress of the Hamlet music we come to the Fatum tone poem. Not one of Tchaikovsky's glowing best but here done with passion in an astoundingly clear and detailed recording from 1948. One can hear every detail including creaks and page-turning. The music is made to burn on a high flame from time to time as at 9:20. So it should, given that Fate was one of the obsessively recurrent themes in Tchaikovsky's musical and biographical progress.
Tchaikovsky's Snegourotcha or The Snow Maiden is based on the play by Ostrovsky. The incidental music is something of a rarity - at least in close to its full version. This 1951 recording sounds absolutely splendid. The music may broadly be described as a fairytale fantasy in the same language as The Nutcracker. It's prime Tchaikovsky. Alexander Orfenov is a strong tenor with only a slightly vulnerability at the top of his range. The Moscow Radio Chorus sing with plenty of vitality in the Shrovetide Procession Chorus and the Chorus of People and Courtiers. Their sound has that burning, burnished nationalist quality. The second entr'acte has a rather watery yet melancholically affecting clarinet solo. This is vintage Tchaikovsky in the same broad territory as the ballet music - full of inventive character. We also get to hear a great name Zara Dolukhanova - listen to the final track.
For Melodiya Gauk recorded all four Tchaikovsky suites, symphonies 3, 6 and Manfred, the Violin Concerto with Oistrakh and the Rococo Variations with Knushevitsky.
The Russians rather liked the Liszt symphonies and tone poems. Golovanov recorded all the tone poems for Melodiya. A major swathe of them were included in his Great Conductors of the Century volume. Several of the great names among Russian conductors have left us versions of the symphonies. Here to add to the picture is Gauk's 1952 broadcast of the Faust Symphony - mercurial, volatile, subdued and brilliant. The Mephistopheles finale flies along in a vividly detailed cavalcade. This is the version without chorus. Gauk is most alive in this fine performance in the that final movement of the three.
The ninth disc in the set is rounded out with Dukas's L'Apprenti Sorcier in a version which, complete with coughs and shuffles, is rather scouted over and lacking in fantasy but not in a rather furious sprinting angst; excellent recording quality though.
The last disc is also of non-Russian music. Gauk's Beethoven Coriolan is angry and protesting - full of Revolutionary fervour. One can imagine a Gauk Egmont might be similarly flammable. Mendelssohn's Ruy Blas is sharply chiselled and gratingly dramatic - a delight after a surfeit of smooth Mendelssohn. This takes us to the dark side. Even the typically Mendelssohnian scherzo flies on batwings and witchery. By now we should know what to expect when we get to the thrashing that Gauk gives the Bizet Patrie overture. Even when it relaxes into charm it is driven.
I did not know Casella's Italia but it is in a smiliar vein of intention to Bloch's nationalist poems (America, Helvetia). It is here given a vehement and luxuriantly Wagnerian rush. It is to be noted that Gauk also used the Casella orchestration of Islamey. Italia is more in the nature of a restless tone poem with some pause for thought and reflection in the still and silky violin writing at 5:13 onwards. Dark-eyed Neapolitan carousing can be heard in the section from 9:00 onwards and there are wild revels in the gale whipped up by Gauk in the last few pages.
Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 is well enough known but Gauk coaxes a smile and folk flavour from the USSR State Radio and TV Orchestra and the recording gives upfront emphasis to the many solo lines. This delivers a wild rush to the music that draws enthusiastic applause from the audience.
Milhaud's Suite Provençale is in eight raucously recorded movements. The first and last are in a manner similar to the outward flanking movements of the Moeran Serenade. These contrast with the calm poetry of the Tres moderé and the other movements which seem to catch the image of village band march-pasts. The penultimate movement, Lent has a heavy Purcellian tread.
The sung words for this set are neither reproduced nor translated in the booklet. The liner-notes - rather spotted with misprints - hold the attention and carefully profile each work played. They are by the eminent musicologist Ates Orga. We should hear more from him.
The ten CDs come in the usual wallet case. Each is housed in its own durable card sleeve which, on the reverse, lists the full track and discographical details for the disc.
This Russian Archives series of boxes from Brilliant Classics continues to have treasury status. The storehouse of Gostelradio recordings must be vast. Brilliant have already collaborated with them to issue volumes for Oistrakh, Rostropovich, Tretiakov, Gilels and others. I hope that they will now explore issuing sets devoted to Boris Khaikin, Rozhdestvensky, Golovanov, Konstantin Ivanov and Fedoseyev. What about cutting the cake in another way? How about looking out rare Russian symphonies or concertos and buildng sets around that theme: there are some promising names out there including Dzerzhinsky (his piano concertos), Shaporin (his 1933 symphony), Shtogarenko (concertos and symphonies) and the symphonies of Boiko, Lokshin and Revutsky.
The present set has great strengths. It opens a casement on a disdained figure whose musical reputation comes out of the experience much stronger. If we choose to we can hear Gauk at last in very respectable sound. The intensity of his music-making has a dash of Golovanov about it and while Gauk could be uneven, when he is on song - as in the Tchaikovsky works and the overtures (CD10) - he has much delight and exhilaration to convey to today's listeners.
This is an attractive box which has been greatly enhanced by the choice of repertoire made by the series compiler. Let's have more of the same which allows us to hear musicians in the less often frequented and in the unpredictable.
Rob Barnett

comment received:

Rob asks in his review of the Brilliant Gauk set about the tenor Tarkhov. He sings the role of Grishka in the Soviet complete "Kitezh" (once available on Lys cd's). According to Bennett, he sings the role of Des Grieux in a Soviet Manon Lescaut (never have seen or heard that recording). Best Joel Grill (

Detailed Tracklist
CD 1 [71:47]
Symphony No. 5 in D minor Op. 47
1. Moderato 15:19
2. Allegretto 4:53
3. Largo 13:26
4. Allegro non troppo
3 Russian Folk Songs, for Chorus & Orchestra Op. 41
5. Across the River 4:01
6. O Vanya, you bold fellow 5:05
7. Powder and Paint 3:39
USSR State Radio & TV Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Evegeny Kibkalo, baritone
CD 2 [72:50]
Symphony No. 11 in G minor Op. 103, “The Year 1905”
1. Adagio, “The Palace Square” 14:23
2. Allegro “January” 17:27
3. Adagio, “In Memoriam” 12:01
4. Allegro non troppo, “Tocsin” 14:01
5. The Song of Oleg the Wise Op. 58 (Pesn’ o veshchem Olege), for 2 male voices, men’s chorus & Orchest 14:55
USSR State Radio & TV Symphony Orchestra (1-4)
Small Symphony Orchestra & Male Chorus of the All-Union State Radio (5)
Dmitri Tarkhov, tenor (5)
Konstantin Polyaev, bass (5)
CD 3 [64:44]
1. Introduction and Dance of the Nymphs 5:15
2. Introduction, Adagio of Aegina and Harmodius 5:04
3. Variations of Aegina and Bacchanalia 3:21
4. Scene and Dance with Crotala 3:57
5. Sword Dance of the Young Thracians 1:54
6. Spartacus proclaimed Leader 2:48
7. Death of the Gladiator 4:41
8. The uprising of the slaves 3:37
9. Via Appia and Dance of the Shepherd and Shepherdesses 3:11
10. Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia 9:05
11. Dance of the Gaditanian Maidens and Victory of Spartacus 6:40
12. Premiere Polka, in B flat major 6:46
13. Kamarinskaya 6:28
Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra (1-11) • Grand Symphony Orchestra (12)
USSR State Radio & TV Symphony Orchestra (13)
CD 4 [59:50]
Symphony No. 1 in E minor
1. Andante-maestoso con passione-allegro ma non troppo 18:52
2. Adagio sostenuto 12:25
3. Allegro risoluto 11:08
4. ”Memory of Friendship”,Theme & Variations on Nocturne in F major of Johann Nepomuk Hummel 15:28
5. Patriotic Song 1:53
CD 5 [75:39]
Symphony No. 17 in G sharp minor Op. 41
1. Lento-allegro molto agitato 16:50
2. Lento assai-andantino ma non troppo 13:44
3. Allegro poco vivace 5:06
4. Andante-allegro molto animato 9:53
5. Flourish, Mighty Homeland Op. 114, Cantata for Chorus & Orchestra 7:26
6. Russian Overture Op. 72 13:04
7. Russian Overture
CD 6 [74:07]
The Seasons, 10 excerpts, Op. 37
1. No. 1 January, At the Fireplace 7:07
2. No. 2 Fabruary, Carnival 2:58
3. No. 12, December,Christmas 5:16
4. No. 9, September, Hunting Song 2:51
5. No. 3, March, Song of the Lark 1:45
6. No. 6, June,Barcarolle 5:19
7. No. 7, July, Song of the Reapers 2:02
8. No. 10, October, Autumn Song 4:41
9. No. 11, November, Troika 2:54
10. No. 4, April, Snowdrop 3:30
11. MILI BALAKIREV: Islamey (orchestration Alfredo Casella) 8:46
12. Spring, Musical Picture in D major Op. 34 9:59
13. Waltz in D major Op. 42 No. 3 3:46
14. March, in memory of Suvorov 4:43
15. In the Fields, from: Characteristic Pieces for Piano, Op. 36 No. 24 4:46
16. Waltz in F major, from: 6 Children’s Pieces Op. 34 3:34
CD 7 [58:51]
HAMLET, incidental music for soprano, baritone & orchestra, Op. 67a
1. Overture 9:38
2. Moderato assai 1:24
3. Allegro vivo 0:22
4. Moderato assai 0:31
5. Allegro giusto ed agitato 3:19
6. Allegro semplice 3:21
7. Fanfare 0:24
8. Andante quasi allegretto 4:27
9. Andante non troppo 6:36
10. Andantino “Elsinore”, Mad Scene 2:48
11. Andantino 0:55
12. Marcia, moderato assai 4:48
13. Allegro giusto 0:22
14. Allegro risoluto ma non troppo 0:50
15. FATUM, Tone-poem for orchestra Op. Posth. 77 18:56
CD 8 [70:10]
SNEGOUROTCHKA, SNOW MAIDEN, incidental music to the Ostrovsky Play, Op. 12
1. Introduction 5:15
2. Bird’s Choir & Dance 7:16
3. Monologue of Frost 4:04
4. Shrovetide Procession Chorus 6:24
5. Melodrama 2:09
6. 1st Act Entr’acte 1:31
7. 2nd Act Entr’acte 2:57
8. Choir of the Blind Gusli-players 5:07
9. Melodrama 4:12
10. Chorus of People & Courtiers 2:35
11. Girl’s Round Dance 4:16
12. Dance of the Tumblers 4:21
13. Brusillo’s Song 2:01
14. Appearance of the Forest Spirit and Apparition of the false Snow Maiden 0:50
15. 3rd Act Entr’acte 2:45
16. Declamation of the Fairy of Spring 6:05
17. Tsar Berendey’s March and Choir 6:10
18. Finale 2:06

CD 9 [68:38]
FRANZ LISZT (1811-86)
Eine Faust-Symphonie/Faust Symphony, version without chorus
1. Faust 25:00
2. Gretchen 16:19
3. Mephistopheles 16:22
PAUL DUKAS (1865-1935)
4. L’apprenti sorcier (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) 10:53
CD 10 [71:56]
1. LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN: Overture Coriolan 8:16
2. FELIX MENDELSSOHN: Overture Ruy Blas 7:18
3. GEORGES BIZET: Patrie, Overture Op. 19 11:15
4. ALFREDO CASELLA: Italia, Rapsodia per orchestra 18:07
5. GEORGE ENESCU: Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 11:16
DARIUS MILHAUD (1892–1974)
6. Animé 1:36
7. Tres moderé 1:49
8. Moderé 1:54
9. Vif 1:09
10. Moderé
11. Vif 1:02
12. Lent 2:10
13. Vif 4:13
Alexander Gauk, conductor
USSR State Radio & TV Symphony Orchestra & Chorus a.o.


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