Russian Fireworks (Kenneth Jean/ Michael Halasz/ Richard Hayman/ Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/ Stephen Gunzenhauser) (Naxos: 8.550328)
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The Russian Fireworks display opens witha characteristic March by Ippolitov-lvanov, taken from his CaucasianSketches, Opus 10. Ippolitov-lvanov made a special study of the music ofthe many ethnic minorities of the Soviet Union and the autonomous republicsassociated with it. A graduate of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, he moved in1882 to Georgia, where he remained for nearly ten years. The March of theSardar was written after his appointment to Moscow Conservatory in 1893.
Liadov belongs to the same generation ofRussian composers as Ippolitov-lvanov. He was born in St. Petersburg in 1855and studied there at the Conservatory. He had the distinction of beingdismissed from Rimsky-Korsakov's Conservatory class for poor attendance, butwas later among those protesting at his teacher's own dismissal, after thedisturbances of 1905. The present release includes a typical arrangement of agroup of folksongs and the three orchestral pictures of Russian legend,Baba-Yaga, Kikimora and The Enchanted Lake. Baba-Yaga is a Russian fairy-talefigure of terror. An ugly hag, she rides through the air in a mortar, impelledonwards by a pestle. Her favourite diet is children, usually cooked, and sheserves as the guardian of the waters of life. Kikimora is a domestic spirit, ahelp to industrious housewives, and the bane of the lazy, to be pacified by aconcoction made from ferns gathered in the forest. Russian lakes too had theirdangers, with lurking Vodyanoi, spirits eager to drag humans down to theirdeath in the waters, although the spirits of drowned maidens might assume amore seductive form.
Kabalevsky, intended by his father for acareer as a mathematician, eventually turned to music. His suite The Comedians,written in 1940, is among his most popular works, although, as a musician ofsome political sensitivity, he wrote a considerable amount of music forpatriotic occasions of one sort or another and some charming music for youngpeople.
The composer Modest Petrovich Mussorgskybelongs to a much earlier generation, that of the founding group of RussianNationalist composers, the famous Five. Mussorgsky pursued his early interestin music as an army officer, later following an intermittent career as a civilservant, his activities modified by alcoholic excess, the underlying cause ofhis early death. Essentially an amateur, he was fired by the inspiration hedrew from the Russian peasantry and by the rhythms and intonations of Russianspeech. The Gopak is taken from an unfinished comic opera, based on Gogol,Sorochintsy Fair, a work later completed by Liadov with the collaboration ofothers. The Dance of the Persian Slaves is from the opera Khovanschina,a work that Rimsky-Korsakov completed after the composer's death.
Anton Rubinstein, notorious for his Melodyin F, a happy play-ground for young amateur pianists, had a profound effecton the course of music in Russia. It was he who was given the task, under theencouragement of the Tsar's sister-in-law, of establishing the first RussianConservatory in St. Petersburg. A second similar institution was soonafterwards set up by Rubinstein's brother Nikolay in Moscow. In spite ofopposition from the Nationalist composers, led by Balakirev, the Conservatorytradition of technical and practical competence produced a later generation ofcomposers able to combine Russian inspiration with the established principlesof Western European musical technique. The three excerpts here included aretaken from stage-works by Rubinstein, the first two from the opera Feramors,an exotic romance on the story of Lalla Rookh, and the third from TheDemon, based on Lermontov.
The Norwegian violinist Johan Halvorsenis the odd man out in a collection of Russian music. His compositions,otherwise generally Norwegian in character. include the popular Entry March ofthe Boyars, written at a time when he was director of music at the theatre inBergen, an accompaniment to the solemn entry of the Russian nobility, the classthat exercised such power in medieval Russia as advisers of princes and Tsars,and hence have a place in Russian historical drama.