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Matvey NIKOLAEVSKY (1882–1942)
Nocturne in C minor (pre-1917)
Fantasia on the Russian Folksong Korobeiniki (pre-1917)
Oh Come, Have Mercy – Gypsy Romance (1903)
I Dreamed of Evening Skies (1903)
To Admire You Forever (1903)
Csardas; Gypsy Dance; Two Ballet Marches (1929): Victory March; Heroic March; The Snuff-Box - A Musical Box for Piano (1925)
A Day on the Volga - Musical Picture (1927)
Tango Satanique (1920s)
Charlie-Fox - Charleston (1927)
Jou-Re - Boston Waltz (1925)
Miss Evelyn - Foxtrot (Shimmy, Two-Step) (1926)
Hey, Enough (1927)
Old Sofron on the Bench (1920s)
The Road Runs Wide through the Fields (1929)
The Bells Jingle on the Harness – Russian Song (after 1922)
Svetlana Zlobina (mezzo)
Mikhail Mordvinov (piano)
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Filipp Chizhevsky
rec. May-June 2015, Popov Academy of choral art and Mosfilm Ton Studio One.
First modern recordings

Varied fare indeed from Toccata Classics. This soundly recorded disc is a sort of counterpart to New World's forays into the popular culture of 1910s and 1920s USA. The piano pieces here in some cases sound like escapees from the catalogues of Scott Joplin and Louis Moreau Gottschalk … or is it the other way around? The world of absurd dances from the 1920s is evoked by Miss Evelyn, Charlie-Fox and Jou-Re. That said Nikolaevsky was by no means a churner-out of cheap genre pieces.

Nikolaevsky was born in Moscow and studied at the highest level at the city's Conservatoire. His teachers included Sergei Taneyev, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov and Sergei Vasilenko. After touring across the soon-to-be USSR he took up a position as répetiteur at the Bolshoi. Soon he became a well loved purveyor of popular music including dances and ballads. As Anthony Phillips in his 8-page essay says: "The Twenties roared in Russia as they did in America and Europe." Nikolaevsky's dance music for piano can be called in aid of that assertion. By the way, this is the same Anthony Phillips who translated and annotated Faber's three volume set of Prokofiev's diaries and who recently completed 'Svetik', a biography of Sviatoslav Richter, also published by Toccata.

The touching Nocturne echoes with the influence of Chopin and momentarily of a certain miniature by Sinding. The virtuoso Folksong Fantasia has a trillingly glistering Lisztian patina - at times suggestive of Balakirev's Islamey and Grand Fantasia. The three songs from 1903 are soulful and strong on sentiment as are the four songs that conclude the disc. They are certainly not for tyro singers and the impressive Svetlana Zlobina presents them with technical aplomb and with a feeling for the words. She does not succumb to Slavonic vibrato. These should appeal to anyone who loves Russian romances. They are not populist in any 1920s mass culture sense.

The undated Csardas and Gypsy Dance are for orchestra. They strut and sway across the stage in a super-inflated tribute to the Radetsky March in the first case and every regal Hungarian cliché in the second. The two piano-solo 'ballet marches' might easily have found their way into a musical by Sousa or Herbert. Cut-glass charm is on show in The Snuff-Box, contrasting with the soulful ten-minute A Day on the Volga with its reminiscence of the famous boatman's song also used by Glazunov in Stenka Razin. I am not sure that the Tango-Satanique merits its devilish title; it must have been a selling tag. The disc ends with the rapid-fire A Bell Jingles - a test trounced by Zlobina and the brilliant and emotionally eloquent pianist, Mikhail Mordvinov.

Toccata teach us a thing or ten about some neglected pages of Russian musical culture and entertain us into the bargain.

Rob Barnett



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