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RUSSIAN FUTURISM Russian Music of the 1920s: details below   Music by:- Alexander MOSSOLOV (1900-1973) Alexander F GOEDICKE (1877-1957) Julian KREIN (1913-1996) Michail F GNESIN (1883-1957) Georg KIRKOR (1910-1980) Lev KNIPPER (1898-1974)


5 CD set - 3 volumes in card slip-case (issued as set in 1997)
                         The 3 vols are available separately.
Vol. 1 1 CD Mossolov - solo piano music (Daniele Lombardi) 74321 27793 2 [55.10] issued 1990 Buy here
Vol. 2 2 CDs Goedicke, Krein, Gnesin, Kirkor chamber & orchestral 74321 27793 2 [68.36]+[78.06] issued 1996 Buy here
Vol. 3 2 CDs Gnesin, Mossolov, Roslavets, Knipper chamber & orchestral - 74321 48722 2 [67.42]+[55.57] issued 1994-96 Buy here

ARTE NOVA CLASSICS 74321 48723 2 Super-bargain price.Buy here

Vol. 1 MOSSOLOV Piano Sonatas 4 (1927) and 5 (1925) and Turkmenian Nights (1935?) (Daniele Lombardi)

Vol. 2
CD1 GOEDICKE Ouverture Dramatique; At War (Six Improvisations for orchestra); Horn Concerto in F (Gleb Karpushkin); Trumpet Concerto (Vladimir Gontcharov) (Russian PO/Konstantin Krimets).

CD2 music for cello and piano (Andrei Pisarev/Alexei Nesterenko): KREIN Sonata-Fantasy; Sonata-Poem, Dramatic Poem. GNESIN Three Characteristic Melodies; KIRKOR Cello Sonata.

Vol. 3
CD1 GNESIN D'Apres Shelley - Symphonic Fragment; Requiem; Piano Trio; Songs of a Knight Errant; Adigeya; The Jewish Orchestra at the Ball of Nothingtown. (Russian PO/Konstantin Krimets; Moscow Solists Ensemble)

CD2 String Quartets (Novosibirsk Filarmonica String Quartet): MOSSOLOV No. 1 (1927); ROSLAVETZ Nos 1 and 3; KNIPPER No. 3.

The major record companies seem to come in for quite a bit of criticism if the newsgroup is anything to go by. BMG has not been immune from that criticism: the 'dumbing down', the cross-over albums, the poorly researched notes, exploitation of back catalogue at high prices, ungenerous timings, poorly targeted reissue policy, glamour artist-orientated regurgitation of the standard classics. The list rolls on and on and some of this heat is justified - though not specifically or exclusively against BMG. However in all the vituperation and attacking of an industry that also delivers much of joy and boundless reward outstandingly valuable sets such as this can easily be lost from sight.

Let us be clear from the start. This set is well worth its modest price. Everything is a world premiere. The performances seem to be committed and certainly they communicate.

Sadly Gramophone do not appear to have reviewed any of the albums. This is typical of another malaise; the focus on the familiar or the recordings of the big name companies at premium price while a host of small labels such as Athene, Chesky, Metier, Pearl and others struggle for space against the big spenders in the advertising stakes. Gramophone may well have accorded it one of their notorious capsule reviews which rather defeat the purpose of buying Gramophone in the first place. I subscribe to Gramophone for expansive, informative reviews and the 'in brief' approach defeats the purpose pointing towards the short-breathed sound-byte reviews beloved of those magazines serving and encouraging short attention spans, odious simplistic star markings (yes, yes, I know we do it here and how I would like to drop the practice) and the industry-serving annual awards process.

I wonder if Fanfare have reviewed the set? Perhaps someone would enlighten me.

Futurism was, so the notes tell me (and remind others), launched by Filippo Marinetti's manifesto of 1909. The movement continued into the 1940s reaching its peak in the 1920s. In musical terms the movement identified with motors, machines, movement and sound. Bourgeois values were rejected and in Russia after the 1917 revolution and for a period of about fifteen years Futurist music and many other types flourished. As is clear from this selection Russian Futurism was to no specific formula. The music is not homogeneous and perhaps we should not get too wrapped up in the label. The music is varied and usually tuneful. There seems to have been no place for atonalism unless such music exists but has not been included in this set. Accessibility rather than elitism should have been popular with the authorities but in the mid-1930s a wave of Stalinism in the arts imposed a very formulaic cramp on music with a 300 page 'style guide' which dictated the acceptable and the rejected. Some of these composers suffered repression and others altered their style to bring them closer to the accepted norm. To what extent their work changed because of the proscription rather than making changes they might have made anyway we will never know.

Decca/London have made a great reputation even greater by their Entartete Musik series reviving many scores by composers killed, exiled, condemned or repressed by fascism. This set examines another form of oppression and I have no doubt that there is an extremely rich vein to be explored here: composers whose music was crushed by Stalinism and its successors. Music should surely transcend politics so perhaps the unthinkable will happen before too long and the work of those who throve under the Nazi or Stalinist regimes will be celebrated and recorded. When politics and uniforms mean less and music means more then perhaps we will hear the music of people like Hessenburg, Max Trapp and others who misguidedly supported or were lionised by regimes of contemptible ugliness and horror. For now we can expect people to condemn such music unheard as soulless, emptily patriotic, pandering to nationalism (oddly enough the latter a virtue in Vaughan Williams, Dvorák and Smetana). Yet this is as objectionable as condemning any music because the man who wrote it held views and did things we find objectionable and worse. We do not hold up a similar judgmental mirror to Wagner, Delius or any one of hundreds of other musicians whose political and moral views now cease to hold relevance in the light of the enjoyment and more which their music instils.

What of the music. Yes, about time I got to that.

MOSSOLOV's Piano Sonata No. 4 is a work of thunder, plate tectonics, great blocks of sound and exoticism all sonorously handled by Daniel Lombardi. It is slightly more challenging than the piano music of John Foulds but having parallels with Cowell and the mystical Szymanowski. There is a hieratic quality to the music which ends this sonata in misty splendour.

Turkmenian Nights is in three movements with a title promising helpings of Ippolitov-Ivanov or Borodin. Not at all! Instead we get stormy Lisztian bravura with recollections of the ubiquitous Dies Irae. In fact Totentanz comes to mind more than once. A hymn tune is held up to a distorting mirror and a wrong note clangour hangs over the scenery. The music conjures up images of fantastic automata but is not at all cerebral. If you appreciate the early piano music of Sorabji you should try this disc.

The Piano Sonata No. 5's first movement is dominated by the ticking of some infernal clockwork and the final movement explodes in hammering excitement. The work closes in a perfumed mixture of chant and bells.

GOEDICKE was a Muscovite. Ouverture Dramatique pour Grand Orchestra (a most unFuturist title!) has a cheery fanfare, stern strings and a dialogue between trumpet and flutes which shows that Goedicke had studied the scores of Tchaikovsky. Here he carries the standard of nationalism (not espoused by Tchaikovsky) mixing liturgical grandeur with a march of great romantic moment all exploding into a finale where Francesca meets 1812.

At War - Six Improvisations for Orchestra is also called From the Diary of a Dead Soldier. It comprises six movements playing for 24 mins. Toy fanfares, an ombrageous cello melody, an evocation of the gloomy life in the trenches, the tension of long hours of waiting for the attack. The music made me think of silent film, jerky characters on a dust bespattered screen and the Steps scene from Battleship Potemkin. The overall effect (not unpleasant) is of high class silent film music. I also recalled Josef Suk's brazenly effective Legend of Dead Victors. What a pity that the notes do not tell us more about the background to this piece.

The F minor Horn Concerto's liquid horn is straight out of the pages of Richard Strauss's First Horn Concerto. There is a dash of Brahms there as well plus a long and challenging cadenza. The horn keeps in character taking a very romantic and dreamy role. All in all quite a discovery!

The Trumpet Concerto starts in reflectively Griegian (The Last Spring) tones and passes through passages of Bachian purity and voluptuous bravura.

GNESIN - D'Après Shelley - Symphonic Fragment in D major is a slice of the moodiest mood music capturing a sense of Manfred's struggles and combining it with Miaskovsky's autumnally sombre lyricism. The Requiem is a 12 minute piano quintet with a compelling emotional ebb, flow and tidal pull. The music reminded me powerfully of Cyril Scott and Herbert Howells. Then comes the sheerly gorgeous Piano Trio 'dedicated to the memory of our lost children'. These represent nostalgic, scintillating dances, touching, pearly and evocative of Fauré. Songs of a Knight Errant are for harp quintet and are meltingly sentimental in a way which keeps suggesting Cyril Scott but without Scott's burgeoning profusion of ideas and over-decorated instrumental lines. Adigeya is an earnest incantatory sextet for violin, viola, cello, clarinet, horn and piano. The weirdly titled Jewish Orchestra at the Ball at Nothingtown is a suite of seven very short dance movements: a dream ball sequence which will warm the hearts of Russophiles, slavonic, clashing, sensitive, zigeuner, Klezmer and tartly harmonic.

KREIN Sonata-Fantasy is in three short (c. 5 min) movements and an initial 3 minute segment. It is romantic, tuneful, smacking of John Ireland. The Allegro drammatico is tense and nervy while the following andante is agreeably dreamy. The finale is an allegro deciso which reminded me of the tumult and energy of John Foulds' Cello Sonata (a masterwork recently recorded by the British Music Society). The whole work could easily have been a work of the British musical renaissance. The Sonata-Poem, with a title beloved of Khachaturyan, is Hebraic with dashes of impressionism. The Dramatic Poem is colourfully done with the example of Rachmaninov's music clearly in the air.

The GNESIN work based on Pushkin's Stone Guest (which inspired a middlingly famous opera by Dargomizhky) comprises three glintingly brief pictures of Don Juan, Donna Anna and Laura. The first is ardently exotic - oriental or Hispanic; the second thoughtful and the final segment calm and beautiful. What a superb quarry for encores! The KIRKOV is by turns flowingly Brahmsian and in its wandering wrong-notes just extreme enough to be tangy without frightening the horses. Anyone who appreciates the Frank Bridge cello sonata (perhaps in the Rostropovich/Britten Decca recording) will enjoy the Kirkov.

Krein, Gnesin and Kirkov remain otherwise largely or completely unrecorded. Goedicke has a piece for piano and orchestra included alongside Glazunov's two piano concertos in Hyperion's outstanding Romantic Piano Concerto series. Mossolov has been recorded from time to time notably for his most noted or notorious piece: Zavod (The Iron Foundry) and there is a complete collection on BMG-Melodiya which I hope to review 'ere long. Roslavetz is a fascinating character. A selection of his piano music has been recorded by Marc-André Hamelin on Hyperion and there have been several other recordings.

MOSSOLOV's First String Quartet is in four movements. For me it points up the variety of works included in this album. The first movement is an andante agitato. The emphasis is on 'agitato'. Psychological dysfunction crawls from every pore. The music might easily be used as background to a German expressionist horror silent. Bats flit out of empty towers and ivy and cobweb-strewn mausoleums deck the landscape. The atmosphere is powerful and very accessible, always underpinned by some insistent tune or motif. This movement is a determinant of the whole work as it plays for 15.07 of its 23.08. A Rozsa-curving song of some mountain highlands, with sad fanfares ringing out over desolate battlefields, is sung by the solo violin at 10.07 but this gives way to a train-urgent pizzicato. Three miniatures (2.48 3.20 1.45) follow reflecting moods from the first movement like flickering sparks thrown off the main structure. II is hectic. III after an initial resolute rush finds relaxation. IV lasts not even two minutes and sings of a creepy solitude and ends with a few splashes of grafted-on determination.

ROSLAVETZ's two single movement quartets are similar in approach. They are full of restless movement and activity. The first has all this but in addition has an ardent tune which sings in Tippett-like passion and confidence at 3.04 and 8.03. The third is a surreal moderato.

The KNIPPER third quartet is in 4 movements, playing for 10.36. This recording seems to have a different balance or recording venue from the others. The Mossolov and Roslavetz works are recorded richly. The Knipper seems closer and with a sparer sound. It is a work of shards and episodes much more so than the other works on this disc - a mosaic of sketches. Rather like the Roslavetz works, Knipper's music often resorts to Russian folksong. It is rarely far away. The other common element is an image of devastated battlefields: try from 2:40 of the adagio last movement.

There was a certain familiarity about all the string quartets on this disc. At first I couldn't pin it down. Then the penny dropped. Frank Bridge. If you know and appreciate Bridge's string quartets (especially 3 and 4) you will warm to these.

The modernist cover art for each volume is taken from 1913/14 paintings by Gino Severini and Giacomo Balla.

The notes are the only weak link in this project. They are helpful as far as they go but rarely do they tell you enough about the specifics or background of each work. Dates of composition are more interesting and significant than opus numbers.

Pretty full discographic information is given.

Background on the Italian artistic futurist movement is repeated in each of the three sets.

In years to come I fully expect this set to become a collector's item of fabled note, spoken of in the same breath as the Paxton 10" LP of Granville Bantock's Celtic Symphony or the early LP of Balfour Gardiner's April etc. Get it now. Enjoy it now and push back the boundaries of your knowledge.

If the label 'futurism' worries you, be reassured. There is nothing (or very little) here to alarm or disconcert. Perhaps just enough in the case of Mossolov to lend a slightly exotic air to the proceedings.

This is a triumph for Arte Nova. I await further volumes. How about the orchestral works of Maximilian Steinberg?


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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