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Conductor Kirill Kondrashin = WAGNER: Siegfried Idyll; RAVEL: Ma mere l’oye; TCHAIKOVSKY: Serenade in C Major – Staatskapelle Dresden – MeloClassic

Conductor Kirill Kondrashin = WAGNER: Siegfried Idyll; RAVEL: Ma mere l’oye; TCHAIKOVSKY: Serenade in C Major for Strings, Op. 48 – Staatskapelle Dresden/ Kirill Kondrashin – MeloClassic MC 5001, 65:24 [www.meloclassic.com] ****:

Russian conductor Kirill Kondrashin (1914-1981) became forever wedded to the 1958 International Tchaikovsky Competition – at least, to the Western mind – with the advent of American pianist Van Cliburn as a musical phenomenon. Until 1958, Kondrashin’s reputation lay in Moscow and Leningrad, where he served with his musical mentor Boris Khaikin (1904-1978) at the Maliy Opera Theatre. Kondrashin made his orchestral debut with David Oistrakh and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. From 1942-1956 Kondrashin worked with the Bolshoi Theatre, resigning eventually to focus exclusively on symphony concerts, particularly in Moscow after 1960. In 1978 Kondrashin staged a “defection” of sorts to the West, via Amsterdam.  The Concertgebouw appointed him Permanent Conductor, sharing the directorship with Bernard Haitink. Had Kondrashin survived his final heart attack, he would have assumed leadership of the Bavarian Radio, to have succeeded Rafael Kubelik in 1982.

Once Kondrashin came to the United States and American ensembles, he immediately adjusted the string sections to uniform bowing and lowered the dynamic levels to achieve a finer gradation of sound.  The present document captures Kondrashin in East Germany, 1955 and 1960, of which the Wagner 1869-1870 Siegfried Idyll (9 October 1955) gives us our first Wagner under this conductor, in live performance, which unfolds lyrically, all nuance.  The balance between strings, oboe, trumpet and French horn quite invokes those motifs crucial to the operatic investment of heroism and pastoral romance.  The step-wise lullaby motif achieves a lulling effect, quite in keeping with the performances we know from Bruno Walter, especially given Kondrashin’s broad tempos.

The Ravel suite in honor of Perrault offers Kondrashin (15 June 1960, studio) multifarious color combinations, each of which reifies our notion of the child in us. Le Petit poucet suddenly bursts in to a monumental passion, only to fade just as quickly into a bucolic reverie. The bustling oriental color-pageant of Laideronette, imperatrice des pagodas shimmers with dizzied, delicate allure, then breaks into its version of an Eastern chant.  The dialogue between Beauty and the Beast resonates with grumbles awaiting the transformation only love can provide, and so the fairy-tale becomes mystical. Le jardin feerique – a great favorite of Koussevitzky, for whom Kondrashin’s parent played during his tours along the Volga – achieves that paradoxical enchantment of pleasure and pain, of beauty mixed with the tragedy that Time imposes on all Youth.

Tchaikovsky’s 1881 Serenade for Strings (17 June 1960, studio), the composer’s deep homage to Mozart, came to Kondrashin by way of both Koussevitzky and Mravinsky.  Lovely and dramatically understated, the performance moves with impressive gusto once past the initial, “fateful” Andante non troppo of the first movement.  The lower strings and pizzicato passages receive etched attention, and the interior lines move with robust elasticity.  The celebrated, balletic Valse enjoys an immediate diminuendo of dramatic power, then lisps its charmed figures in thoroughly gratifying gestures. Its pianissimo coda leads to Kondrashin’s expansive suasion with the expansive Elegie: Larghetto elegiaco. If Kondrashin’s performance registers any association, it would be a sound we know in Elgar’s string music.  The essentially Russian Finale has been waiting for Kondrashin’s applied acoustics, with its opening hushed Volga tune conjoined to a spirited Cossack dance, which Kondrashin moves with unbuttoned vigor.

For any admirer and collector of Kirill Kondrashin’s recorded legacy, this MeloClassic album remains indispensable.

—Gary Lemco

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