ASV's Catalogue Returns courtesy of Presto Classical - A selective stroll
by Rob Barnett
In 2007 Universal acquired and then shut down Sanctuary Records and with it the family of ASV labels. ASV had been issuing CDs since it was founded in 1980. It had been acquired by Sanctuary in 1999 who reissued some of the classical catalogue on Resonance. Going by this
reference ASV issued some 337 CDs. The ASV stable included the Gold, Platinum and Quicksilva series, its central classical product under the prefix: ASV CD DCA, Sound of the Steam Age and a prolific nostalgia label, Living Era.
Although ASV stocks are at times listed by Amazon vendors the label's availability has flickered and new recordings have not been issued for many a year. The back catalogue has on occasion been licensed out to the likes of Brilliant Classics (Musica Mexicana and a Rimsky-Korsakov orchestral series - review ~ review) and at one time Regis. This and the intermittent Amazon presence gave the ASV legacy a fitful life of sorts.
Its distinguished and imaginative classical catalogue had a wide and varied coverage as a search of 'ASV' on the MWI site engine will show. Quite apart from an artistically gifted approach to choice of musicians and repertoire the label's products often indulged in an in-your-face and know-no-fear colour scheme that had the booklet covers standing out just as much as the label's characteristic blue spine design.
All these factors carry over into online retailer Presto's deal under which they manufacture ASV discs licensed from Universal Music Operations Ltd. Full booklets and inlays are, it seems, sourced from digital files supplied by ASV. "Combined with the thermal full colour printed silver dye CD-R, using audio sourced from the original factory DDP files, the result is a finished product almost indistinguishable from the original factory-pressed version."
By no means inexpensive, this initiative - rather like the
ArkivCD manufacture-on-demand deal which we have also reviewed from time to time - makes available a host of discs that in many cases have otherwise slipped past MWI's reviewing net and have remained stubbornly deleted.
First of all a handful of 'greater USSR' repertoire CDs (click on the cover
images for links to the Presto sales pages):
AMIROV (1922-1984) wrote highly coloured music - as brightly lit as ASV's cover art. This is ethnic-dramatic and ranges from poetic middle eastern exotic to gaudily raucous. You might well end up grouping these works written during the period 1940-1970 with those of Khachaturian. The Moscow Phil under de Almeida play up the barbarous colours in a 1996 recording. This Azerbaijani composer rejoiced in a Rimskian tradition and poured into it colours that rage and dazzle. No wonder that Stokowski took up the first of his Azerbaijani Mugams (nationalistic rhapsodies) coupled on Everest with Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy and, I think, other works. It can be a little episodic and is in the Borodin Polovtsian tradition. There is a Naxos CD of Amirov orchestral works which overlaps with but has a shorter playing time than this one. It's also worth looking out for two generously timed and long-gone Olympia CDs of Amirov orchestral music: OCD 490 and OCD 578. This music is quite addictive. The present disc is completed by an essay from Philip Taylor.
The GLIERE (1876-1956) CD from 2002 contrasts with the Amirov in sporting music that is in typical Western formats: Concerto and Symphony. Its basic units are longer-breathed than those of the Azerbaijani composer: longer movements rather than a patchwork of short scenes, moods and dances. Gliere's Violin Concerto was left unfinished when he died so it was completed by and orchestrated by Boris Lyatoshinsky (1895-1968) (reviewreview) - he did a pretty good job too. It's in a Russian Korngold songful style - a little like the Glazunov concerto: very attractive and successful despite its rather odd single span format running towards 18 minutes. Violinist Yukio Nishino revels in its long aspiring lines and crunchingly romantic idiom. The roughly 48 minute long Second Symphony is from 1907 and is a typically epic-heroic work just on a more compact scale than Gliere's Third Symphony Ilya Mouramets from four years later. The Second Symphony was recorded by the composer (Consonance 81-3002) in the 1950s. The essay is by Donald Venturini. Gliere's operas are something of a closed book. A pity that his operas (Shakh-Senem (1923–25), Leyla and Medzhnun (1940) and Gyul'sara (1936, rev. 1949)) seem destined to be known to us only for their orchestral gems. Gliere has been well covered by Chandos and Edward Downes in years gone by but this is an inspired single disc selection.
Mikhail IPPOLITOV-IVANOV (1859-1935) was from a generation earlier than Gliere and two generations before Amirov. He was that much closer to the great nineteenth century Russians and this shows. His proximity to enduring fame came from one short piece - Procession of the Sardar from the first suite of Caucasian Sketches. Well done to the producers of this 2001 disc for assembling some rare Ippolitov-Ivanov and resisting the temptation to include the more famous of the two Caucasian Sketches suite. You can in any event hear that in at least two versions: Eloquence (Fistoulari) and Vanguard (Abravanel). As for this disc it is admirably done by ASV stalwarts Tjeknavorian (also the composer of five symphonies) and the Armenian PO. They deliver plenty of voltage even for the irresistibly tawdry bombast of the Jubilee (Voroshilov) and Turkish marches.
The Georgian March at the end of 'the other' Caucasian Sketches Suite seems to draw on both Tchaikovsky and Borodin. The atmospheric and mysterious tone poem Mtsyry (1922) is an intriguing twenty minute piece variously echoing Tchaikovsky's Manfred and Balakirev's Thamar. There's a part for soprano and that's not the only vocal presence on the CD. We get to hear a soprano aria from the composer's opera, Assya (1899). It's sung with broodingly smoking defiance by Vardouhi Khachatrian. Oriental colouring and Scheherazade spicing is more prominent in the much earlier Armenian Rhapsody.
The Turkish Fragments (4) follow the short unit multi-movement pattern successfully established for the two Caucasian Sketches suites. The Caravan first movement even seems to ape the approaching and then receding character of the music for Procession of the Sardar; attractive enough but it lacks the memorable qualities of the earlier piece. On the other hand the atmospheric In the Night movement (III) simmers orientally and in a very pleasing way. The helpful notes are by Robert Matthew-Walker.
You might possibly see Gary Brain's Conifer disc (reissued by ArkivCD) showcasing this composer but that offers only the Symphony No. 1 not already presented here. When you realise that the ASV runs to approaching 78 minutes of music by comparison with the barely 59 minutes of the Conifer then the choice becomes easier and more obvious. Certainly there is nothing about the recording or performance qualities that run counter to that.
The Armenian composer Edvard MIRZOYAN (1921-2012) studied both in Yerevan and then in Moscow where his composition teachers included the symphonist Nikolai Peiko. Mirzoyan held high office in the composer world in Armenia but transcended its geographical boundaries with a number of compositions that achieved an international reputation of sorts including this four movement 1962 Symphony for timpani and strings. This brightly-lit recording presents vigorous pin-sharp playing. The music is dignified, delicate, precise yet steely - a sort of mediation between Prokofiev's Classical and the icy romance of Shostakovich. The steeliness relents for the Theme and Variations heard, I suspect, in the version arranged by Loris Tjeknavorian from a 1947 string quartet; also recorded by that composer-conductor. This work has a feathery lighter sound and character - Mendelssohn spun from a mix of silk with tungsten-carbide filament at its core; appealing though. Smoke rises from this heated music-making.
Although we are assured that Armenian folkmusic plays its part in this music it is rather deeply subsumed. It's a shame that Roland Melia's notes are not more specific about dates and premiere artists but the final In Memory of Arma Khachaturian (with a very Khachaturian-like subtitle Poem-Epitaph) must surely date from circa 1979. It's a predominantly slow-paced exercise in affection, desolation, melancholia and that very same dignity mentioned above. It would make a complementary contrastive companion for Pärt's almost contemporaneous Cantus - In Memoriam Benjamin Britten. The St Petersburg Chamber Ensemble conducted by Roland Melia also recorded a Miaskovsky disc for ASV. The Mirzoyan Cello Sonata - written for Rostropovich - is on Blue Griffin.
To most classical ears Avet TERTERYAN (1929-1994) is a distant repertoire outlier; this time from Azerbaijan. He studied however in Yerevan where one of his teachers was none other that Edvard Mirzoyan. His Symphonies 3 and 6 were on a Melodiya Musica Non Grata CD about fifteen years ago but much more recently his symphonies 7 (1987) and 8 (1989) were at last issued on MDC.
This ASV disc came out in 1997. There are eight complete symphonies (1969-1989), two operas (Ring of Fire, 1977 - recorded by Melodiya; Earthquake, 1984), and two string quartets among much else. What to expect? Symphony 3 is in three movements - the whole thing running short of 22 minutes. The music is tough, eruptive, howling, intriguing, introspective-strange, exotic (at east to Western ears), rhythmically mordant, shamanistic and unconventional. The flavours are lavish and yet cutting - the presence of autochthonous instruments: the rasping-trumpeting duduk (cylindrical double-reed) and the zurna (conical double-reed) is unforgettably commanding and peppery with a high Scoville rating.
The Third was premiered by the Armenian Phil conducted by David Khandzian who is the dedicatee of the Fourth which he recorded on an EP with the same orchestra (see I-Player). If the Third is wild and hairy the Fourth - in a single the 35 minute movement - is counter-culture in other ways. It is often quiet, breathless and mystery-tensioned - all glimmering and mirror-shimmering strings, bardic horns, tinkling percussion and harpsichord with Russian bell, celesta and organ.
To imagine the sound of these two symphonies think in terms of aspects of Jon Leifs, Sergei Zhukov, Silvestre Revueltas, Allan Pettersson and Alan Hovhaness (as in And God Created Great Whales and the symphonies Vishnu, Etchmiadzin and Ani.
The Armenian PO's website for many years listed a cycle of CDs of all eight Terteryan symphonies conducted by Tjeknavorian but that presence has disappeared. I have never seen those discs listed anywhere else. Does anyone have them?
This music, in all its unruly vitality and virility, benefits from the technical attention of ASV regular producer Brian Culverhouse. The excellent and detailed notes are by Ates Orga.
Five discs that chart ASV's access to Eastern Bloc Soviet era music in some of its varied treasury of edgy idioms and styles.