About this Recording
8.550328 - Russian Fireworks


The Russian Fireworks display opens with a characteristic March by Ippolitov-lvanov, taken from his Caucasian Sketches, Opus 10. Ippolitov-lvanov made a special study of the music of the many ethnic minorities of the Soviet Union and the autonomous republics associated with it. A graduate of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, he moved in 1882 to Georgia, where he remained for nearly ten years. The March of the Sardar was written after his appointment to Moscow Conservatory in 1893.

Liadov belongs to the same generation of Russian composers as Ippolitov-lvanov. He was born in St. Petersburg in 1855 and studied there at the Conservatory. He had the distinction of being dismissed from Rimsky-Korsakov's Conservatory class for poor attendance, but was later among those protesting at his teacher's own dismissal, after the disturbances of 1905. The present release includes a typical arrangement of a group of folksongs and the three orchestral pictures of Russian legend, Baba-Yaga, Kikimora and The Enchanted Lake. Baba-Yaga is a Russian fairy-tale figure of terror. An ugly hag, she rides through the air in a mortar, impelled onwards by a pestle. Her favourite diet is children, usually cooked, and she serves as the guardian of the waters of life. Kikimora is a domestic spirit, a help to industrious housewives, and the bane of the lazy, to be pacified by a concoction made from ferns gathered in the forest. Russian lakes too had their dangers, with lurking Vodyanoi, spirits eager to drag humans down to their death in the waters, although the spirits of drowned maidens might assume a more seductive form.

Kabalevsky, intended by his father for a career as a mathematician, eventually turned to music. His suite The Comedians, written in 1940, is among his most popular works, although, as a musician of some political sensitivity, he wrote a considerable amount of music for patriotic occasions of one sort or another and some charming music for young people.

The composer Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky belongs to a much earlier generation, that of the founding group of Russian Nationalist composers, the famous Five. Mussorgsky pursued his early interest in music as an army officer, later following an intermittent career as a civil servant, his activities modified by alcoholic excess, the underlying cause of his early death. Essentially an amateur, he was fired by the inspiration he drew from the Russian peasantry and by the rhythms and intonations of Russian speech. The Gopak is taken from an unfinished comic opera, based on Gogol, Sorochintsy Fair, a work later completed by Liadov with the collaboration of others. 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 Melody in F, a happy play-ground for young amateur pianists, had a profound effect on the course of music in Russia. It was he who was given the task, under the encouragement of the Tsar's sister-in-law, of establishing the first Russian Conservatory in St. Petersburg. A second similar institution was soon afterwards set up by Rubinstein's brother Nikolay in Moscow. In spite of opposition from the Nationalist composers, led by Balakirev, the Conservatory tradition of technical and practical competence produced a later generation of composers able to combine Russian inspiration with the established principles of Western European musical technique. The three excerpts here included are taken 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 The Demon, based on Lermontov.

The Norwegian violinist Johan Halvorsen is the odd man out in a collection of Russian music. His compositions, otherwise generally Norwegian in character. include the popular Entry March of the Boyars, written at a time when he was director of music at the theatre in Bergen, an accompaniment to the solemn entry of the Russian nobility, the class that exercised such power in medieval Russia as advisers of princes and Tsars, and hence have a place in Russian historical drama.

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