Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No.5 in E minor Op.64 (1888) [40:22]
Ouverture Solonnelle Ď1812í Op.49 (1880) [14:53]
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Stenka Razin Ė symphonic Poem Op.13 (1885) [17:06]
Ural Cossacks Choir (1812)
Berlin State Opera Orchestra (symphony) Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (1812, Razin)/Alexander Kitschin
rec. 1928-29, Berlin

This is exciting. We have an almost unknown conductor, little known recordings, including a major symphonic statement, first class Polydor pressings, and splendid restorations by Mark Obert-Thorn.

The conductor is Alexander Kitschin, about whom almost nothing is known. He was married to soprano Xenia Belmas, and Ė Iím reliant on the brief notes for my information Ė he emigrated to Germany with her from the Soviet Union in 1921. They moved to South Africa in 1938. He accompanied her on some vocal discs in Berlin, as well as these three orchestral outings. All were made in Berlin, and even here thereís been some debate as to attribution. The Tchaikovsky Symphony is label-credited to ĎThe Opera-Orchestra, Berliní but itís been ascribed elsewhere to the Berlin-Charlottenburg Opera Orchestra. Obert-Thorn thinks itís actually the Berlin State Opera Orchestra, who recorded the work two years later for Leo Blech, who ironically later trod the same journey as Kitschin, only in reverse, ending up in Russia.

Kitschinís conducting ethos, on the basis of the symphony in particular, might be generally likened to such outsize individualists as Mengelberg, Coates, Stokowski, and Golovanov. In another twist, I assume he was living in South Africa at around the same time as Albert Coates, whose conducting his so resembles, so maybe some trace remains of him there, as some recorded traces do of Coates in broadcast performances.

I donít think Iíve ever heard the Fifth open in such a way as here; a doleful, trudging, hugely introspective tempo, but one that is, amazingly, just about sustained through the opening paragraphs. Thenceforth we are treated to a remarkable display of personalised music making Ė powerful moments when the music stop-starts, slows down, speeds up. Rhythms are hugely flexible, and things are taken to phrasal and expressive limits. The slow movement is not especially slow in any way, but as throughout itís the variety of phrasing and of orchestral colour that lends this performance its strategic purpose. He encourages distinctive wind playing and phrasing, and brings the orchestra along with him to a remarkable degree. There are cuts in the finale but these were, I think, not unusual at the time and even later conductors, such as Schmidt-Isserstedt and Sargent, used them. If youíve had the good fortune to hear Coatesís 1922 traversal of the symphony you will certainly note a kind of kinship of interpretation. What is undeniable is the flair, excitement, and extremes generated by this unknown conductor.

As a bonus we have Glazunovís Stenka Razin, in a purposeful, powerful traversal, and the Ď1812í, with the full-blooded contribution of the Ural Cossacks Choir.

These set the seal on a rather amazing disc.

Jonathan Woolf

A rather amazing disc.

A rather amazing disc.