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The MRAVINSKY Edition BOX. 2  LENINGRAD PO/YEVGENY MRAVINSKY   10 CDs BMG-Melodiya 74321 29459 2
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These ten respectably (though not overly generously) filled discs are, perhaps inevitably, a mixed blessing but blessing they remain and this long benediction often surprises and astounds.

The vintage of the recordings in boxes 1 and 2 varies from well known concert performances from 1965 when a clutch of concerts given at the Moscow Conservatoire were recorded and issued for commercial consumption to radio broadcasts from the seventies and eighties. Volume two also has quite a few commercial recordings from the late 1940s and the 1950s. These have appeared previously on EMI LPs and latterly (1980s) on Olympia CDs. Most of the discs are sourced from tapes of the Leningraders on their own soil.

Some of the performances, as in Box 1, are taken from live concerts given in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and Moscow. The trade-off for concert-hall ambience and some striking high voltage playing and insight is a light speckling of coughs or in a very few cases a staggered barrage of coughing. Too much can be made of this. For my part I would rather suffer audience noise than forego the patent awe that suffuses so much of this making of music.

The notes (English, German and French) are by the always excellent Dr Sigrid Neef and the translations are idiomatic. What I especially like about the notes is that the work-specific sections link commentary about the work directly with Mravinsky's performance history and his philosophy about these composers.

The numbering of the volumes carries over from the first box which includes vols 1-10.


Beethoven's Symphonies 5 and 7 are presented with typical iron-crease precision and high emotional temperature. Recording quality in the 1949 fifth symphony tape is as expected - rather ancient - but it still has the power to communicate. Neither will be regarded as library shelf standards but for my part I would rather get to know these works from this disc than I would from a probably plusher modern production. There is no sense of routine in this music making. I wonder if Mravinsky ever recorded Eroica? Now that I would like to hear.

Vol 12

Leaping forward to 1972 and 1973, Symphonies 3 and 4 join the disc of No 2 in the first box. It is a pity that there is not an available tape of No. 1 - a work completely in tune with Mravinsky's intensity. Similar qualities bless these performances and recordings. Mravinsky and the Leningrad orchestra (what a delight that BMG resisted redubbing it the St Petersburg in what would have been a curious inversion of '1984' rewriting of history) do not distort. There are no incongruities. The blaze on the brass sound seems completely in keeping. The strings are precise and generously toned. At the same time the tragic edge in both symphonies is presented with conviction borne of experience. Both performances are live not studio.

Vol. 13 BRUCKNER Symphony No  8 rec 1959 mono

At 73.59 this must surely be a cut version. Nevertheless what is caught in this, the towering climax of the Bruckner cycle, is the blooming dark tragedy of the work and of course Mravinsky is fully sympathetic to that mood. This is one of the strengths of this set.


I had not expected a Strauss collection, least of all the tottering awe of the Alpine Symphony. What comes over eloquently in the Alpine is less of the 'kolossal' and more of the ecstasy of Alpine pastures. The First Horn Concerto is a favourite of mine and is the only concerto in the two boxes. It is exuberantly done by Vitaly Buyanovsky. The tapes date from the early 1960s and must be of live concert performances judging by the occasional coughs.


The inconsequential symphony no. 21 by Nikolai Ovsyaniko-Kulikovsky is a fake written by one Michael Goldstein (where is he now?) who is given to perpetrating such counterfeits. He has also written a cello sonata by Borodin! The symphony is coupled with a ragged but typically excoriating performance of the Shostakovich 5. Both tapes date from 1954 and like others in this set are in mono.


This work (Symphony No. 7) is much more than the primary colours propaganda poster it is sometimes condemned as. Its long Adagio throbs with tragic power and its wartime origins smoke and smoulder through every bar. As expected Mravinsky is completely in touch with this music and a compelling and bruising power burns through and through. The 1953 recording was made in Leningrad probably by an orchestra many of whose members remembered the terrible days of 1941.


The Eighth Symphony (1943) is another avowedly wartime work. This symphony is dedicated to Mravinsky. It is tough, pugnacious and tragic and very much in keeping with Mravinsky's temperament. The mono recording from 1947 is primitive but communicative. Hardly a definitive choice but one that it is a pleasure to know exists.


Two fourth symphonies. Glazunov's is comparatively rare (a pity there weren't more Glazunovs in this set - I would have liked to have heard Glazunov 5, 6, 7 and 8 from Mravinsky). Here its pastoral pleasures and Kouchka-like romance are well handled and make a contrast with the straining drama of Tchaikovsky 4. Both tapes are mono dating from 1957 (Tchaikovsky) and 1948 (Glazunov).


Rather like the last volume, two traditions meet in this disc. The Russian steppes romance and exoticism of Rimsky-Korsakov (Legend of the City of Kitezh suite) and the tightly screwed up breaking strain emotionalism of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique. Both mono tapes date from 1949.

VOL. 20 TCHAIKOVSKY - all mono tapes

Francesca da Rimini is work ideally suited to Mravinsky's sense of theatre and passion. It is excellently done here with a volcanic spirit hindered not a whit by the 1948 recording quality. The 1949 sourced tape of the Serenade for Strings provides a lilting contrast with the blood, passion and gore of Francesca. Finally Tchaikovsky's circus ring postcard (Capriccio Italien) is done with crude eagerness in a 1950 tape.


This set, with older recordings than box 1, has much to commend it but if it comes to a choice between having Box 1 or Box 2 I would go for the more consistently glowing splendours of Box 1. At the same time you will look wistfully over your shoulder at Box 2.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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