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Steven J Haller
American Record Guide, March 2011

On March 7, 1981 the great Russian conductor Kyril Kondrashin died suddenly of a heart attack one day after directing a memorable performance of Mahler’s First Symphony with the North German Radio Symphony in Amsterdam, where he had settled after defecting from the USSR three years earlier. That came as most lamentable news to music-lovers around the world, but perhaps nowhere more so than Munich, where Kondrashin had just accepted with the greatest of expectations the post of Chief Conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony following the retirement of Rafael Kubelík. Those great expectations were fueled in large part by this concert, recorded in Munich in February 1980. (The remainder of the program, a highly charged account of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto with a young and feisty Martha Argerich, has been issued before: Jan/Feb 1996.)

The Franck Symphony may seem like a strange choice given Kondrashin’s reputation as a master of the Russian repertory; yet in fact he first recorded it in Moscow in 1950, and he performed it many times over the course of some 30 years, including another recording with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw from 1977 that has been issued by Tahra. Even the performance with the Bavarian Radio Symphony offered here is not new: it was released on Philips LP (6514 119) back in 1982, but sounds a good deal better here.

This is one of the great Franck D minors, hewing far more closely to the recordings by Paray and Munch than the more expansive view of Ansermet, Bernstein, or Stokowski’s Hilversum recording, yet permeated with the frisson of the concert hall perhaps unequaled outside Stoky’s riveting pre-taping session with the same orchestra. The widespread mike setup (with the basses well to the right) makes for a blowzy, yet gratifyingly detailed sonic spectrum that plays right into Kondrashin’s gripping treatment of the somber opening pages—it almost seems as if the players are holding their breath—palpably cranking up the tension until the jagged motif suddenly surges forth with explosive force. Kondrashin keeps a taut rein on his men and calls for grand shards of sound from the trombones. For all his attention to the prevailing dark mood of the opening movement, Kondrashin lingers over the wistful second subject as if hesitant to rejoin the fray. All through the piece he indulges in sudden shifts in tempo that in lesser hands might seem mere affectation; yet he is ever the consummate interpreter. The gossamer tone he coaxes from the Bavarian strings in the Allegretto and the stand-out performance by the English horn make for a delectable repast before the final movement fairly bursts out of your speakers, quite oblivious of Franck’s “non troppo” codicil, but very bracing. With the grand return of the main theme there’s no question Kondrashin is playing to the balcony; but I had already put down my pad and pencil long before that, and with the sonorous closeout (hear those clarion roulades from the trumpets!) you’ll want to respond just as enthusiastically as I imagine the Munich audience did that day (all trace of applause has been expunged).

Yet as much as you will surely want this for the Franck Symphony, I’m holding onto it even more for the Russian Easter, which Kondrashin never recorded commercially. It is every bit as colorful and richly satisfying as the Capriccio Espagnol on RCA and his Scheherazade on Philips, praised over and over again in these pages. In the reverent opening pages he bides his time, buoyed by some exceptional playing from the lead violin; but when the celebrants erupt in rapturous joy over the Resurrection Kondrashin spurs on his men as if possessed, and if you play that track at full room volume you’ll rejoice too. I’ve never before heard the central trombone solo played quite like this: here is not a mournful cantor but instead an uplifting orison that moves the heart and soothes the soul before the kettledrum’s crisp tattoo sets in motion one last cathartic outpouring. The massive Bavarian trombones are as a force of nature in the closing pages, filled out with wide swaths by the gong and the furiously pounding timpani. Here too the anticipated applause has been edited out, though you may well be moved to supply your own.



David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, March 2011

These performances don’t show Kondrashin at his absolute best, but even so there’s a lot to enjoy. God knows, the Franck is light-years better than dozens of other performances I could name. The first-movement introduction is rushed—and more damagingly, somewhat clipped in its phrasing—but once the music gets going the excitement never lets up. The central Allegretto is miraculous: exactly the cross between slow movement and scherzo that Franck intended, and if you love this work then this performance is worth hearing for that movement alone. The finale blazes without a trace of the usual heaviness or pomposity.

The overture gets off to a slowish start but builds steadily to a huge final climax. The problem there is that the engineers fail to capture the percussion: no glockenspiel to give glitter to the treble, nor tam-tam to underpin the bass. There’s little question that under more controlled conditions Kondrashin might have turned in performances of both works for the ages. As it is, we can enjoy what we have, in good but slightly shallow German radio-quality sound, and lament the loss of what might have been.



Boyd Pomeroy
Fanfare, March 2011

This disc preserves, in superb sound from Bavarian Radio’s own archives, a concert given by Kyril Kondrashin as guest conductor, on the basis of which he was appointed music director of the orchestra. Sadly, fate intervened, with the Russian maestro’s unexpected death from a heart attack the following year. The concert thus provides a tantalizing taste of a potentially great partnership that never materialized, a combustible meeting of Kondrashin’s trademark style—rhythmic punch, fastidious dynamic control, and elegantly tapered phrasing—with the intensely individual sound of the Bavarian orchestra—silken, supple strings; rich, fruity woodwinds; and cutting brass, with a distinctive vibrato.

The Franck Symphony receives a memorable reading, combining precision with a high degree of excitement. Kondrashin imbues the introduction to the first movement with more momentum than usual, to the music’s great advantage—lighter textures, pointed rhythmic lift, and singing bass lines. His treatment of the Allegro is swift, punchy, and dramatic, avoiding any hint of bogging down in the thick textures of the second theme. The middle movement is played with a welcome emphasis on its element of scherzando caprice, and the finale is notable for its dynamic refinement and textural clarity.

The new disc nicely complements another live Kondrashin version, with the Concertgebouw in 1979 (Tahra): a very similar interpretation, but subtly different in emphasis through the brighter and (even) more incisive sound of the Amsterdam orchestra, compared to the darker, richer hues of the Munich performance.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s curtain raiser is done to the manner born, the Bavarian orchestra’s rich sonorities wonderfully evocative in the music’s great bell effects.

The recording is superb—a fairly close-up perspective on a natural hall sound with bite, transparency, and rich resonance. Production standards are high from this label, seemingly a German equivalent of the late (and much missed) BBC Legends. The disc will be self-recommending to fans of the conductor, and should make a few new ones.



Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, January 2011

As Nicolai Rimsky Korsakov said in his autobiography, his purpose in writing his Russian Easter Festival Overture (1888) was to reproduce “the legendary and heathen aspect of the holiday, and the transition from the solemnity and mystery of the evening of Passion Saturday to the unbridled pagan-religious celebrations of Easter Sunday morning.” How well he succeeded may be gauged in this beautifully paced and overwhelmingly compelling account by Russian conductor Kyrill Kondrashin and the Bavarian Radio Symphony which has to be one of the best I have heard. Rimsky included no fewer than five quotations from the Russian Orthodox liturgy in this wonderful orchestral fantasia, imparting a sense of strangeness to western ears. Here, the orchestral playing includes marvelous cadenzas by an uncredited solo violin. They separate the sections of the overture, which Konrashin builds skilfull through its various minor climaxes to a smashing finale. An unusual feature of this work is its time signatures, beginning with a measured 5/2 in the opening section, and a breakneck finale notated in 2/1 with occasional passages in 3/1, as composer and conductor let out all the stops.

Konrashin continues the excitement in the major work on this program, Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D Minor (also 1888). Here the object is to start slowly in the opening Lento, deftly and deliberately introducing the little four-bar theme that is spun through widely different and harmonically rich keys and will be quoted in the succeeding movements of a work famous for its cyclic form. The opening movement is followed by an Allegretto that begins, once again slowly and solemny, with a poignant theme for English horn over plucked harp and strings that never fails to make the moving impression it does here. This slow movement also has characteristics of a scherzo, punctuated by two trios and some livelier material. The finale, marked Allegro non troppo, is a real blockbuster in this performance. Upbeat and exuberant, it takes that modest theme we heard in the opening of the symphony and shows what a fantastic edifice can be made of the simplest materials.



Mike D. Brownell
Allmusic.com, November 2010

Russian-born conductor Kyrill Kondraschin conducted the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks for the first time in February of 1980. Regrettably, this was to be his only engagement with the orchestra. Despite the favorable reception that he was given, and the fact that the orchestra began the process of having Kondraschin succeed famed conductor Rafael Kubelík, Kondraschin died of a heart attack early the next year. This BR Klassik disc is a live performance of his conducting debut with Rundfunks, performing Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Russian Easter Overture” and Franck’s D minor Symphony. Listeners will immediately recognize just what a loss Kondraschin’s death was to the Rundfunks Orchestra. Even at the beginning of their relationship, the conductor’s strong personality already shines through with his masterful control of tone, dynamics, and pacing. The Rimsky-Korsakov is, as would be expected, big, expansive, and robust. What’s a little surprising is that these same characteristics are brought to the Franck. The first movement is driven, focused, and wonderfully tense. The brass section in particular is bold and almost aggressive, blasting their way through the Finale in a way that doesn’t seem obnoxious, but exhilarating. Few other performances of this symphony can claim to offer such a vivacious, potent interpretation; Franck’s symphony may have had a much warmer reception at its premiere had Kondraschin been at the helm.






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10:51:12 PM, 21 December 2014
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