Nicolai Golovanov conducts TCHAIKOVSKY = Moscou: Coronation Cantata; Voyevoda – Symphonic Ballad, Op. 78; 1812 Overture Solennelle in E-flat Major, Op. 49; The Tempest – Symphonic Fantasy, Op. 18 – Moscow Radio Sym. and Choir/ Luydmilla Legostayeva, mezzo/ Daniel Damaniov, bar./ Nicolai Golovanov – Praga Digitals SACD (mono) PRD/DSD 350 117, 77:36 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (2/10/15) ****:
Though he fell out of official Soviet favor, conductor Nicolai Golovanov (1891-1953) established a potent reputation for the visionary, often manic intensity of his performances, earning him the epithet, “the Russian Furtwaengler.” Praga Digitals restores performances of Tchaikovsky assorted scores inscribed by Golovanov between 1948 in monaural sound, but revived here with often astonishing force, even on the standard CD track. The two large works, the Moscow Coronation Cantata (1883) and the symphonic poem The Tempest (1873) based on the Shakespeare play receive absolutely mesmerizing, acutely detailed performances whose sound – despite the original 78 rpm, Gramplasttrest, and Melodiya shellacs and LPs – now invests the colors Golovanov could elicit from his loyal players.
The Moscou Cantata, commissioned for the coronation of Tsar Alexander III, has a Russian libretto by Apollon Maykov, but the 1948 inscription suffers Soviet bowdlerizing of the text that eliminates references to “imperial” and “religious” motifs. The original celebration of the “Tsar’s pure majesty” under the eyes of a “benevolent God” have been erased in favor of a “people’s innate worth.” In six sections, the music relies on Russian Orthodox liturgical tropes, bringing in two gifted soloists with mixed chorus. The melodic inspiration proves highly derivative of work Tchaikovsky had engaged at the time, his Op. 43 Suite No. 1 and the opera Mazeppa. But the blending of sections and the nobility of line clearly benefits from Golovanov’s attention to color detail.
Tchaikovsky himself had little regard for his own Voyevoda Ballad of 1890, going so far as to destroy the score. Alexander Siloti managed to retrieve the surviving orchestral parts and reconstruct the piece. The orchestration makes use of the celesta even prior to its appearance in The Nutcracker. Even insofar as the music ranks as mediocre Tchaikovsky, Golovanov (1948) infuses the twelve minutes with his typical fervor, making us wish Tchaikovsky might return to the score to give it the attention his last opera Iolanta received.
The ever-popular 1812 Overture of 1880 (rec. 1952) may well steal the show, so far as this disc is concerned. Golovanov has his own ideas about tempo and phrasing, extending melodic lines and hurrying other phrases along, all to the point of catapulting to the colossal engagement of Napoleon’s forces with the defenders of Mother Russia in 1812. Even without the added gimmicks of cannons and chorus, Golovanov here turns in a reading that could make Mengelberg envious. The ringing chimes and brass support make the Russian doxology overwhelm the distortions of La Marseillaise. The operatic display and militant fury evoked from the symphony orchestra clearly owes its totality of effect to Golovanov’s long association with Mussorgsky’s Boris Gudonov.
Golovanov inscribed Tchaikovsky’s 1873 music for The Tempest in 1951 for Melodiya. The dominant image of the opening section belongs to the Sea, a force of nature whose brass, strings, and tympanic rolls rivet our attention. Each of the principals in the “magical” play – Prospero, Miranda, Ariel, Caliban, Ferdinand – becomes intertwined through a kind of leitmotif method, though Liszt – especially his Tasso – may exert more influence on this score than Wagner. Some have characterized both Tchaikovsky and Golovanov’s treatment of this material (via Vladimir Stasov) as “cinematic”; and judging by a concept based on say, John Barry’s Out of Africa, the designation seems apt. The love-theme garners a pathos almost “worthy” of what the Romeo and Juliet Fantasia offers. Typically for Tchaikovsky, a strong “balletic” element permeates the score, achieving its own brand of vehemence under Golovanov. For a conductor whose recorded legacy has often languished in inferior sonic reproduction, this restoration remains a real coup for all concerned, whether you access the standard CD or SACD options.