IPPOLITOV- IVANOV: Caucasian Sketches / Turkish Fragments (Alexander Hornostai/ Arthur Fagen/ Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.553405)
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For many years the reputation of Ippolitov-Ivanov hung by the slender thread of one 'pop' classic, Procession of the Sardar. Even the remainder of the first suite of Caucasion Sketches from which that music comes was not known.
Born in 1859, he studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, graduating in composition in 1882. It maybe cruel, but perfectly true, to say that from that day on his musical style never changed. He was therefore left behind as yesterdays man, the Communist authorities shoring up his existence, the music he turned out meeting all of their criteria.
Yet if history will treat him badly, it is equally true that his music is colourful, well scored and immediately attractive. It draws heavily on Rimsky-Korsakov for its basic style, but he could write good scene painting, as the misty start of the opening section of the first suite, In a Mountain Pass, amply demonstrates.
He was, however, heavily indebted to folk music for both of the suites, the second suite from 1896, taking music from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and, for the final march, Georgia.
In later life he was to take a growing interest in Turkish music, and the influence that it had on music of the south of the Soviet Union. This led to the Turkish March, which probably dates from the late 1920's - is a short unadorned military-style march - and the four movement Turkish Fragments from 1930.
This latter work directly uses Turkish folk melody, very exotically orchestrated and scored for a large orchestra. Indeed outside of the Soviet Union, the need for the large orchestral forces, together with the technically awkward and demanding parts, has certainly dissuaded many concert promoters.
No such problems would exist with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. Their outgoing virtuosity, and very individual tonal qualities make them ideal for such scores, and indeed they come from the very heart of the areas which attracted the composer.
They are conducted by the American, Arthur Fagen. He has worked as assistant to such conductors as James Levine and Christoph von Dohnanyi, and, in addition to a busy concert hall career, he is heavily involved in opera, and has conducted at such theatres as the Metropolitan in New York, Chicago's Lyric Theatre, and the Teatro Massimo in Palermo.
The only alternative to this disc is on our Marco Polo label, and a very mixed compilation of Russian music on ASV which has the Caucasian Sketches. So its very much a case of having the market much to ourselves.
The recording made in June 1995 has tremendous impact, and makes a suitable successor to our more venerable offering on Marco Polo.
Colourful music from the romantic era, and let us forget that the composer was born too late to enjoy that period.