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2.110291 - MUSICAL JOURNEY (A) – CRIMEA / RUSSIA / UZBEKISTAN (NTSC)
A Musical Tour of Crimea, Russia and Uzbekistan
In Bukhara in the predominantly Islamic region of Uzbekistan, formerly a Soviet republic, a smith works at the forge. Scenes from his forge are intercut with glimpses of the castle of Sudak in Crimea, once held by the Genoese. The painting by Ilya Repin, dating from the early 1890s, shows a historical event. Here, in 1676, the Zaporozhian Cossacks draft an offensive reply to the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV, who has demanded their submission.
Music Khachaturian: Sabre Dance from Gayane
Aram Khachaturian (1903–1978), a composer from Soviet Armenia, enjoyed considerable popular success at home and abroad, his particular mixture of nationally inspired melodic material and relatively conventional harmony, has proved particularly attractive. The famous Sabre Dance forms part of a final divertissement in the 1942 ballet Gayane, a story of love in a cotton cooperative, in which the heroine is released from her marriage to a politically unreliable husband and is able to marry the chairman of the cooperative. The dance is part of their wedding celebration.
The Vorontsov Palace, at the foot of the Crimean mountains, was built for Prince Mikhail Semyonov Vorontsov and completed in 1848. Its English architect, Edward Blore, incorporated Neo-Gothic and Moorish elements into the building, guarded by three pairs of marble lions, and set amid fine formal gardens. The Crimean mountains are seen clouded in mist, which gradually clears. The so-called Swallow’s Nest (Pastochkino Gnezdo), a Neo-Gothic folly, is seen, clinging to its cliff-top.
Music Borodin: Overture to Prince Igor
Alexander Porfir’yevich Borodin (1833–1887) was the illegitimate son of a Georgian prince. He had a distinguished career as a professor of analytical chemistry and, at the same time, pursued musical interests as one of the group of Russian nationalist composers known as The Mighty Handful or The Five, largely under the dominating influence of Balakirev. Borodin’s opera Prince Igor was left unfinished to be dealt with by Rimsky-Korsakov, who, with his pupil Glazunov, completed the opera. The overture, indeed, was once said to have been written out from memory by Glazunov, who had once heard Borodin play it through on the piano.
The varied landscape of Crimea includes the crags and cliffs of mountains, and various coastal resorts. Views of Crimea include a short visit to Polyana Skazok, gardens near Yalta, with their fairy-tale figures.
Music Glinka: Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila
Mikhail lvanovich Glinka (1804–1857), the oldest of the composers represented in the present Russian Festival, was born on his family’s estate near Smolensk and brought up at first by his grandmother. His schooling in St Petersburg brought him into wider contact with Western music and his later career, initially with a government sinecure in the Ministry of Communications, allowed him to pursue a somewhat irregular course of musical activity as a composer and as a drawing-room performer, later with more thorough professional training. His second opera, Ruslan and Lyudmila, is based on a poem by Pushkin, a Persian fairy-tale in which the heroine, Lyudmila, is abducted by a wicked dwarf, but is finally rescued by her beloved Ruslan. At its first performance in 1842 the work was not well received, but grew in favour as time went on. The brilliant overture remains a popular concert item.
The Church of the Intercession on the Nerl River at Bogolyubovo has a simplicity and beauty all its own, in its rural setting, with its white walls, carvings and onion dome. It is said to have been built by Andrey Bogolyubov in memory of his son Izyaslav, killed in battle with the Bulgars. Some 22 miles to the south lies Vladimir, once the capital of medieval Russia, with its historic churches and cathedrals. The painter Vasily Maximov specialised in peasant scenes. Here he depicts the heroic Ivan Susanin in the winter forest, as he saves the Romanov Tsar by misleading the armies of the Tsar’s enemies.
Music Glinka: Overture to A Life for the Tsar
Glinka completed his first opera in 1836. At first called Ivan Susanin, it was later to be known as A Life for the Tsar. The work, based on historical events of 1612, when the Russian Susanin was instrumental in saving the new Romanov Tsar from the Polish army, established Glinka’s reputation as the leading Russian composer of the time.
Village life continues as ever at Nasypnoye, with its geese and hens, dogs and surrounding landscape.
Music Glinka: Karaminskaya
In 1844 Glinka travelled abroad again, meeting Berlioz in Paris, where his music was greeted with some enthusiasm, and going on to Spain, where he was able to collect useful melodic material for the later use of himself and others at home. During the course of his stay abroad he wrote the famous orchestral piece Kamarinskaya, which makes use of the simplest of Russian melodies in a remarkably imaginative way and with orchestration that was to serve as a model long after his death in Berlin in 1856.
RUSSIA • UKRAINE
Something of the variety of Russian and Ukrainian landscape is seen, revealing countries that are not always and inevitably snowbound.
Music Rimsky-Korsakov: Flight of the Bumblebee
Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908), once he had given up his career as a naval officer to become an inspector of naval bands, became possibly the strongest of the five nationalist Russian composers, The Mighty Handful, first following the example of Glinka and later falling to some extent under the Wagnerian spell. He taught for a number of years at the St Petersburg Conservatory, where his pupils were to include Stravinsky and Prokofiev. The all too well known Flight of the Bumblebee, familiar in many virtuoso arrangements for the most unlikely instruments, has its origin in an interlude in the opera The Legend of Tsar Saltan. A prince, with the magic help of a swan, turns into a bee and seizes the opportunity to sting his two unpleasant and jealous aunts, who had plotted his death and that of his mother, the Tsaritsa.
The town of Sergiyev Posad, known as Zagorsk in Soviet times, is the site of the famous Trinity Lavra, a monastery that was for long the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch, a centre of pilgrimage housing many important paintings and artefacts, many dating from the Middle Ages. The Cathedral of the Assumption, founded by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century, holds the tomb of the usurper, Boris Godunov, the leading character in Mussorgsky’s opera of that name, represented here by a glimpse of the great Russian bass Shalyapin in the rôle. The Kiev Monastery of the Caves, Pechersk Lavra, is made up of a number of historic buildings, bordering the River Dnieper, and takes its name from the underground passages below parts of the complex of buildings. A more recent monument is seen in the statue of the Defence of the Motherland, a figure that stands triumphant over its surroundings.
Music Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Overture
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, written in 1886, avowedly orchestrated in the style of Glinka, is based on liturgical themes, a description that does little justice to the lyricism and excitement of the work, seen rather as a fantasy than a formal overture. Tsar Alexander III, who had little taste for Russian music of this kind, forbade any repetition of the piece in his hearing, after he had heard its first performance. The programme of the work is explained by the inclusion of quotations from Psalm LXVIII and from St Mark’s account of the Passion in the score.
‘Russian Festival’: Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra cond. Anthony Bramall [Naxos 8.550085]
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