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Anatole Fistoulari – Orchestral Suites from Russian Operas = GLINKA: Russlan and Ludmilla Suite; RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Ivan the Terrible Suite; May Night Overture; TCHAIKOVSKY: The Tsarina’s Slippers Suite – London Sym. Orch./ Philharmonia Orch. (Tchaikovsky and May Night) – Guild

Anatole Fistoulari – Orchestral Suites from Russian Operas = GLINKA: Russlan and Ludmilla Suite; RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Ivan the Terrible Suite; May Night Overture; TCHAIKOVSKY: The Tsarina’s Slippers Suite – London Sym. Orch./ Philharmonia Orch. (Tchaikovsky and May Night)/ Anatole Fistoulari – Guild GHCD 2408, 72:42 [Distr. by Albany] ****: 

Anatole Fistoulari (1907-1995) was an exceptionally-gifted Russian conductor, who made his debut at the age of seven conducting Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony from memory, and who became one of the most important conductors of Russian music in the West after the 1917 Revolution. On this Guild CD release of Parlophone LPs of 1951-1953, he leads orchestral suites from infrequently heard Russian operas, played by two of the finest British orchestras. Fistoulari brings to this rare music many of the qualities of empathy and excellence for which he was famous. Fistoulari’s gramophone records confirm that he was at his best with soloists or ballet; the recordings of Grieg/Falla with Clifford Curzon or the complete Swan Lake are first-class examples. He would stick rigorously to a soloist, and his tempi were always just right for the dancers. When de Basil’s Company came to Covent Garden in 1946 the London International Orchestra was in the pit, and Fistoulari rendered some excellent performances of The Prodigal Son and Le Coq d’Or.

Fistoulari’s program opens (17 July 1951) with the 1842 Suite from Glinka’s Russlan and Ludmilla, whose Overture usually constitutes our entire familiarity with the score. Fistroulari plays the Overture with fervor, but nothing like the manic energy we hear from Yevgeny Mravinsky. The ensuing Fairy Dances from Act III reveal a strong Italianate character, a sort of mannered Verdi that contain the same flavors we hear in A Life for the Tsar dances. The Oriental Dances from Act IV take place at the castle of Tchernomor, an abductor of Ludmilla. These borrow elements of Mozart as much Arabian, Turkish, and Caucasian impulses, invoking a colorfully shimmering Lezghinkha well in advance of Khachaturian. Tchernomor’s pompous and “magical” March from Act IV concludes the suite.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1898 Ivan the Terrible had as its original title The Maid of Pskov, from which Fistoulari (25-26 August 1953) inscribes the famous Overture and three excerpts, the last of which – Royal Hunt and Storm – bears more than a titular relationship with Berlioz of Les Troyens. The French horn and string ornaments, high and low, mark this curious but eminently colorful finale to the Suite. Once more, the LSO brass, tympani, and strings prove impressive, much as they had been when Albert Coates led Russian repertory. Two Intermezzos follow, the first of which well resembles immediately elements we know from Mussorgsky’s Boris Gudonov. The second Intermezzo, more meditative, relies on hazy atmosphere and Russian doxology.

Fistoulari seems to have favored Tchaikovsky’s orchestral score for Gogol’s The Slippers! in an arrangement (rec. 9 January 1953) by Constantine Saradjeff.  Vakula, the blacksmith, makes a deal with the Devil in a snow storm, allowing Vakula to charm a local beauty, Oxana, with the tsarina’s own slippers.  The four excerpts include elements of magic and exorcism, pageantry, a dainty Minuet, and a hearty supply of Russian national dances. The crackerjack Philharmonia of the period had been well-disciplined in Russian repertory by Issay Dobrowen, and virtually every wind player in the ensemble is a master of his instrument.

The 1880 Overture to May Night (rec. 30-31 August 1951) based on another Gogol tale remains its most familiar staple, with classic renditions by Coates and Markevitch. We can assume the mighty French horn playing here from the Philharmonia emanates from the legendary Dennis Brain. Altogether, a fitting conclusion to a magical program in several musically rewarding respects.

—Gary Lemco

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