|TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74
"PathÈtique." The 1812 Overture, Op. 49.
All-Union Radio and Central TV Great Symphony Orch; Nikolay Golovanov, cond.
BOHEME CDBMR GOL0 1 (F) (ADD) TT: 63:00
SCRIABIN: Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 43
"The Divine Poem." Poem of Ecstasy, Op. 54
No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27
Boheme Records has a "Two Centuries of Russian Music" reissue series that includes a number of recordings conducted by Nikolay Semyonovich Golovanov, born in Moscow January 9, 1891. His first studied choral conducting, became a fine teacher and made his conducting debut in 1909 directing the Synodal Choir in Rachmaninoff's Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. That same year he became a student at the Moscow Conservatory studying special theory and composition, at which time he met and befriended Alexander Scriabin and Sergei Rachmaninoff. He said Scriabin "opened new, yet unknown worlds...and literally stunned me by the novelty in harmony and peculiar features of orchestra texture," while of Rachmaninoff he said "his profound dramatism excited me, and I was enchanted by his gentle, fragrant lyrics." Upon graduation in 1914 Golovanov began work in the Bolshoi Theater; the first opera he conducted was Rimsky-Korsakov's Tsar Saltan. With a decade he had led most of that composer's operas, as well as operas of Borodin, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev and Glinka, and Bizet's Carmen. He also conducted ballets including Petrushka and Scheherazade. In 1937 Golovanov became chief conductor and artistic director of the Large Symphony Orchestra of the All-Union Radio and with that group made a number of recordings many of which are now issued for the first time. Also a composer, Golovanov's compositions include a symphony, two operas, a piano sonata and several hundred songs many of which were performed at the time by leading singers with the composer at the keyboard. He died in 1953.
Here we are considering just three of the Boheme Records releases in their Golovanov series and must mention first the 1952 recording of Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy, which surely is among the finest interpretationsof this exotic music ever recorded, marked by urgent accents, impassioned dramatic surges and frequent tempo changes. Sergy Popov is the remarkable trumpet soloist. Scriabin's Divine Poem (Symphony No. 3) is also on the disk - Golovanov is, indeed, a supreme interpreter of this composer's music. The Russian orchestra is in fine form on this CD, the mono sound rather brash which adds a rather demonic sound to the brass - which seems highly appropriate.
The performance of Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2 is erratic to the extreme - but quite exciting. I can't help but wonder what the composer, who knew Golovanov, would have thought - and imagine that he would have been appalled by the bar-by-bar tempo changes, exaggerated dynamics, and swooning treatment of Rachmaninoff's lush melodies. There are many cuts, and Golovanov adds snare drums (effectively, too!) in the scherzo. The final movement finds the Russian orchestra far from its best with scrappy playing in an attempt to keep up with the conductor's far too rushed conception. Recorded in 1945, sonically this is the least successful transfer of the three disks covered, particularly in the third movement where distortion prevails.
If you are disturbed by Mengelberg's mannered interpretation of Tchaikovsky's PathÈtique, you'll find it quite tame compared with Golovanov's. Arbitrary is the norm here. As in the Rachmaninoff, tempo and dynamic changes often are bar-to-bar, particularly in the third movement march which will shock you the first time you hear it - especially the final overly-exaggerated chords. Perhaps because of the engineering, the important gong just before the finale's coda is virtually inaudible. 1812 is more of the same wild interpretive ideas as the Russian orchestra scrambles more than a bit to keep up with the conductor, who interpolates "Glory" from Glinka's Life for the Tsar in the final pages. This was recorded live - applause is heard at the conclusion.
These three CDs are a mixed bag - arbitrary - even perverse - but quite fascinating performances usually marked by scrappy orchestral playing and recorded with typically Russian brassy sound of the '40s. It is unfortunate they are issued at premium price. Surely there is interest in this Russian conductor, but top price for older recordings is hardly justified - and far removed from the Naxos concept of historic recordings in exemplary transfers at budget price.
Incidentally, Golovanov is conductor for the 1949 Bolshoi Theatre recording of Boris Godunov, where he exhibits none of the eccentricities of his purely orchestral recordings mentioned above (REVIEW).
R.E.B. (November 2002)