Russian State Symphonic Choir
Symphony No. 4 in C major, Op. 102
Concerto for cello & orchestra, Op. 8
Missa festiva, for mixed chorus & organ, Op. 154
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Alexander Grechaninov: Symphony No. 4 etc.
The music of Alexander Grechaninov is becoming increasingly popular. Bom in Russia and taught by Rimsky-Korsakov, Taneyev and Arensky, he was a very successful and prolific composer. The list of his works includes some 201 numbered opuses and many other unnumbered works. The first of his three operas, Dobrinya Nikitich, was staged at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1903 with the legendary Shalyapin in the title role; his symphonies have been performed by leading orchestras under great conductors such as Rimsky-Korsakov (Symphony No. 1), Barbirolli (Symphony No. 4) and Stokowski (Symphony No. 5). In 1925, when he was already over sixty years old, he left Russia, from 1939 living in Paris and after that in Detroit and New York, where he died in 1956. Nicolas Slonimsky wrote:
In the second half of the twentieth century, Grechaninov is the last living link with the traditional music of Great Russia.
The main part of Grechaninov's creative output is his vocal music, particularly religious works for chorus. Without a doubt, he can be named as one of the greatest Russian composers ever to have written sacred music.
The Missa festiva was written in 1937 and is set to the traditional Latin mass text. Grechaninov wrote it to enter into a competition for the composition of a Catholic mass. In his memoires the composer wrote: As a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, I had little hope of winning in a competition with Catholic composers.
Nevertheless, he took first prize, triumphing over thirty-eight other composers from France and Belgium, and soon Grechaninov conducted the Missa festiva in one of the Catholic churches in Paris. It was also performed the following year in an overcrowded Notre Dame Cathedral.
The Missa festiva follows the traditional pattern of the six-movement mass and is scored for mixed chorus and organ. The organ's role is mainly accompanimental, although it does sometimes create a subtle harmonic or contrapuntal background (as in the Sanctus and Gloria respectively), and shimmering 'clusters' in the Agnus Dei. Grechaninov's writing for chorus is simple, but expressive, fresh and elegant. There are very few polyphonic sections in the Mass, the composer preferring to follow the more vertical, chordal texture typical of the Russian Orthodox church music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The dynamic range, as is usual in Russian sacred music, is very wide: from the ecstatic climax in the Crucifixus, to mystical psalmody at 'Et in spiritum sanctum', sung by the alto soloist with very spare, continuo-like accompaniment.
The success of the Missa festiva encouraged Grechaninov to write another mass, the Missa oecumenica, in which he explores and develops the idea of combining the music of different churches. The composer himself considered the Missa oecumenica to be his 'most important achievement in sacred music'. As in the Missa festiva he uses the universal language, combining Orthodox, Gregorian and Hebrew chants with the strict text of the Catholic liturgy. The score was published in France and was later reprinted in New York, but this is the work's first recording.
The Fourth Symphony, however, remains unpublished (the manuscript is in the Glinka Museum in Moscow), but has been performed on many important occasions and has also been recorded in Russia. The Symphony was completed in St Jean-de-Luz, near the Spanish border in France, where Grechaninov spent the summer of 1927 (although in the catalogue of his works, he gives the dates of 1923-24 for the completion of this work). The composer later wrote in his book My Life:
Some Russian writers complain that they can not continue their creative work away from their native soil... Quite to the contrary... here, from afar, I feel more intimately all things Russian, and my attachment to my native land grows ever deeper...
The Fourth Symphony is (like all his Symphonies) a very Russian work. It is dedicated to Tchaikovsky and reminds us of his music; some of the melodies are so close to those of that great Russian composer that they might almost be quotations from his music. After completing the score Grechaninov showed it to Sergey Koussevitzky, who suggested the performance of only one movement. Grechaninov declined the offer. It was only after Grechaninov settled in New York that he was able to arrange the first performance of the Fourth Symphony, with the New York Philharmonic under Sir John Barbirolli. The premiere took place on 9 April 1942 - fifteen years after it was written. It was also performed in Moscow in 1944 at a special concert to celebrate the composer's eightieth birthday.
The story of Grechaninov's Cello Concerto is quite mysterious. He wrote the work in 1895 and originally gave it the opus number 8. This single-movement composition is beautifully and unusually shaped (the form being similar to that of Saint-Saens's First Cello Concerto). When I first found the manuscript of the Concerto (eighty-three pages in length) in the Glinka Museum in Moscow, I was surprised that the work had not been performed or recorded since its composition over a hundred years ago! It seemed to be complete, with the exception of some passages towards the end where Grechaninov had made several drafts, but had not made a final decision about which one to use. In these situations I took the liberty of making that choice; however, all my 'additions' are based strictly on the composer's suggestions which are very clear in the original score. The Concerto is scored for a relatively small orchestra (including double wind). The cello writing is very effective and shows great knowledge of the instrument.
Later, while making a piano score of the Cello Concerto, Grechaninov made a few cuts and changes in the last, most virtuoso section of the work and gave it a new title, Phantasy. So, Phantasy is a shorter composition than the Concerto, and is less interesting as a cello piece. A full score of the Phantasy does not exist and the composer did not even mention it in his catalogue of works printed in his book My Life (New York, 1952). So, the original manuscript of the Cello Concerto remains the only proper source for its performance and it is undoubtedly one of the best pieces in the Russian cello repertoire.
-Alexander Ivashkin (1997)
As a soloist and chamber musician Alexander Ivashkin has performed in more than thirty countries, playing under such conductors as Rostropovich, Muti, Ozawa, Rozhdestvensky, Lazarev and Furst. He has been a regular guest at many important music festivals in Europe, the USA, Japan, and Australia including festivals in Berlin, Boston, Cannes, Turin and Warsaw. A solo cellist with the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra he was also one of the Artistic Directors of that famous company. Alexander Ivashkin is the first performer and dedicatee of many works by contemporary composers including Alfred Schnittke and has made numerous award-winning recordings.
Ludmila Golub studied piano, organ and harpsichord with Professor Roizman at the Moscow Conservatory and she is well known as an organist throughout Russia. Her repertoire includes works by Bach, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Franck, although she is also a great champion of twentieth-century music, having given Russian premieres of works by Ives, Messiaen, Jolivet, Ligeti and Kagel. She has also taken part in premieres of works by Russian composers including Schnittke and Gubaidulina under such conductors as Rozhdestvensky, Sinaisky, Kitajenko and Boulez. Ludmila Golub is an experienced chamber musician and has toured all over Europe.
The first concert performance given by the Moscow Conservatoire Student Choir, later to become the choir of the Russian State Symphonic Cappella, under Valeri Polyansky (also a student at the Conservatoire) on 1 December 1971, is considered to be the date of its foundation.
In 1975 the Choir, under Polyansky, won gold and bronze medals at the international competition of polyphonic choirs, 'Guido d'Arezzo' in Italy. This was the first time in the history of the Russian choral tradition that a choir had been awarded a prize in an international competition. Valeri Polyansky won a special prize as best conductor of the competition.
Polyansky and the Russian State Symphonic Cappella have toured extensively in Russia and abroad, to much critical acclaim.
The Russian State Symphony Orchestra, or Soviet Philharmonic Orchestra as it was originally called, was formed some ten years ago by the conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky. Since then it has made numerous concert tours throughout Russia, Europe, the USA and Japan and has performed alongside many world-famous musicians and conductors including Yehudi Menuhin, Nikolai Petrov, Yuri Bashmet, Vladimir Spivakov and Zubin Mehta. Since 1992 the orchestra has been conducted by Valeri Polyansky and has given innumerable concerts together with the Russian State Symphonic Cappella. In that same year the Orchestra toured the USA, Canada, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria, Japan and Taiwan.
After graduating from the Moscow State Conservatoire, Valeri Polyansky attended a postgraduate course in opera and symphonic conducting, where he studied with Gennady Rozhdestvensky.
Valeri Polyansky began his professional career conducting at the Moscow Operetta Theatre and at the Bolshoi Theatre. During this time he also worked with all the leading symphony orchestras of Moscow. In 1992 he became Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Russian State Symphonic Cappella and Russian State Symphony Orchestra.
Valeri Polyansky has wide connections with other leading Russian and international symphony orchestras; he has conducted the State Chamber Orchestra of Byelorussia, the Helsinki Symphony Orchestra and the Taipei Symphony Orchestra. He was involved with a production of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin at the Goteborg Music Theatre in Sweden and in 1993 was Principal Conductor at the Goteborg Festival.