ISSAY ALEXANDROVICH DOBROWEN
Of Russian birth, Dobrowen initially studied the piano, being a pupil of Igumnov on that instrument at the Moscow Conservatory and of Taneyev for composition, subsequently going on to study with Leopold Godowsky at the Vienna Academy of Music. He was appointed a professor at the Moscow Conservatory in 1917, making his debut as a conductor in 1919 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. In 1922 he conducted the first performances in Germany of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov at the Dresden Opera, where he was engaged shortly afterwards as first conductor under Fritz Busch, the general music director. Dobrowen also held a position at the Vienna Volksoper between 1924 and 1927, and led the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra concerts before being appointed as the chief conductor of the Sofia Royal Opera in Bulgaria for the 1927–1928 season, as well as chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra from 1927 to 1931. That latter year he travelled to America, where he soon secured the posts of associate conductor with the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra and of chief conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. In addition he conducted regularly at the Budapest Opera between 1936 and 1939, and he was invited in 1937 to become the conductor of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, which had been formed by the violinist Bronislaw Huberman.
Dobrowen continued to conduct the Oslo Philharmonic until the German invasion of Norway, but in 1940 he fled from Norway to Sweden and secured work conducting at the Royal Opera in Stockholm and with the Göteborg Symphony Orchestra. After World War II he swiftly resumed his international career, conducting opera at La Scala, Milan and at Covent Garden in London, occasionally also acting as stage director. In addition he was contracted to EMI by the record producer Walter Legge, with whom he made a series of distinguished recordings. He died in Oslo in 1953 after a protracted illness: the last work he conducted in public was Boris Godunov at Covent Garden during 1952. As well as conducting, he was active as a composer, writing two piano concertos and an opera.
Although best remembered for his performances of Russian music, Dobrowen was an effective musician in a wide repertoire, as his discography indicates. His muscular and exact conducting style made him an excellent accompanist. Before World War II Dobrowen had conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in violin concertos by Bach and Mozart with Huberman as soloist and he also conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra in several of Legge’s finest post-war concerto recordings. These included Brahms’s Violin Concerto with Ginette Neveu and the Piano Concertos Nos 1 and 2 of both Tchaikovsky and Brahms with Solomon; and the Piano Concertos Nos 2 and 3 of the Russian composer Nikolai Medtner, with the composer as soloist and financed through the generosity of the Maharajah of Mysore. The Maharajah had by chance heard some of Medtner’s music on the radio and chose to initiate an important series of recordings with Legge as a result of his serendipitous enthusiasm.
Dobrowen’s greatest achievement on record was the complete recording of Boris Godunov which was made in Paris for EMI and in which the bass Boris Christoff sang the parts of Boris and Pimen. Of Dobrowen’s few other operatic recordings his readings of Wagner are noteworthy, especially his accompaniment of Kirsten Flagstad in Isolde’s Narrative and Curse from Tristan und Isolde. He recorded only a few purely symphonic works, such as Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and Borodin’s Symphony No. 2, with the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Orchestre National de Radio France respectively.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).
Role: Classical Composer