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Discussion Starter · #141 ·
In addition to Lyatoshinsky and Koussevitsky there are other Russian composers to consider for various reasons. For example, think of the effects of the Soviet era on two late romantic composers who stayed in Russia: Reinhold Glière (1874-1956; already discussed) and Alexander Goedicke (1877-1957). The more inspired Glière is already included on Favored Composers while Goedicke is not on any list. What they have in common is: (1) chronology; (2) writing of concertos; and (3) conformity under the Soviet regime. Glière quickly became known for his symphonies and other orchestral works, while Goedicke (a first cousin of Medtner) was a piano prodigy. His Konzertstück for Piano and Orchestra (c. 1900) is a bravura work, wisely of more limited scope in length and style than the extraordinary Russian piano concertos of the period. Glière branched out into composing in other genres as well as conducting and taking on administrative positions. Goedicke had a teaching position in piano at Moscow Conservatory. Unlike Glière who had excellent training, Goedicke was largely self-taught as a composer.

Both composers wrote for less common solo instruments. Glière composed concertos for harp, coloratura soprano, cello, horn and violin (unfinished, completed by Lyatoshinsky). Particularly notable are the first two, and Joan Sutherland’s recording of the innovative work for soprano is remarkable. (Glière and Glazunov: Concertos: Sutherland; LSO/Bonynge; Decca). Glière stopped writing symphonies after the Soviets took power. Goedicke also wrote a concerto for French horn, a virtuosic and lengthy Trumpet Concerto, an Etude concertante for trumpet, and a violin concerto which I haven’t heard. A superb recording of the Trumpet Concerto is by Timofei Dokshitser, one of the greatest trumpeters ever, who played in the Russian style with vibrato (Rhapsody: Dokshitser; Bolshoi Theater Orchestra/Algis Zhuraitis; Marcophon 2008). I don’t know of any acceptable recordings of Goedicke’s three symphonies; his At War: Six Improvisations for Orchestra, op. 26 (1915; YT) is affecting.

The practice of both composers under the Soviets was to compose in very conservative romantic or romantic-classic styles. With concertos they could connect with top performers at home and abroad, credibly writing in an optimistic mode appealing to performers and audiences that would also appease the watchful authorities. (On the other hand symphonies might be accused of elitist “formalism” [abstraction], while orchestral program music could be condemned for its “content.”) Both composers also wrote occasional music in support of the rulers.
 

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FWiW: In Alphabetic Order

The Mighty 5 (Imperial Russia)
1. Balakirev
2. Borodin
3. Cui
4. Mussorgsky
5. Rimsky-Korsakov

The (20th century+) Russian 5
1. Prokofiev
2. Rachmaninov
3. Shostakovic
4. Stravinsky
5. Tchaikovsky
 

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FWiW: In Alphabetic Order

The Mighty 5 (Imperial Russia)
1. Balakirev
2. Borodin
3. Cui
4. Mussorgsky
5. Rimsky-Korsakov

The (20th century+) Russian 5
1. Prokofiev
2. Rachmaninov
3. Shostakovic
4. Stravinsky
5. Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky as a 20th Century composer! You got me there for a second. I do wish Pyotr had lived longer. Oh, what wonderful tunes he could have spun in a longer lifespan. I suspect you are refering to Boris.
 

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Discussion Starter · #144 ·
Re the Mighty Five, César Cui (1835-1918) is the one composer of the group who has not been discussed. Cui's father was French and his mother Lithuanian; his soldier father stayed in Russia after the Napoleonic Wars. One thing I recently learned about Cui is that his main career was as an expert in military fortifications. He became a significant music critic while as a composer he leaned towards the light classical type. His orchestral output consists of a number of suites and other pieces of similar scope. Among the suites is one featuring a soloist: the Suite Concertante for Violin and Orchestra (1889), whose four movements are titled Intermezzo scherzando, Canzonetta, Cavatina, and Finale: Tarantella. The first movement opens promisingly with a Russian mood and dance theme. The succeeding movements are well-crafted and appropriate to their genres, but otherwise strike me as dated for their time and not distinctive. That impression has remained with his other orchestral works, which would appeal to listeners particularly interested in light classical music. But I've decided not to include him on a list for this thread.
 

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Discussion Starter · #145 ·
Issay Dobrowen (1891-1953) was a Russian composer who emigrated to Norway and pursued an international conducting career. Dobrowen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra on the recording of Medtner playing his own three concertos mentioned above. As for Dobrowen’s own Piano Concerto in C# minor, op. 20 (1926), it is a late romantic work with touches of a more modern sensibility. The opening movement shows influences in material and pianistic style of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. The movement would have been more effective I think if the piano were not playing continually, particularly since it is followed by a moto perpetuo Scherzo. This movement is lively and upbeat in mood with rapid modulations and colorful percussion. The succeeding slow Intermezzo is tragic with a sense of Scriabin-like fatefulness, for example in a trumpet solo answered by strings. By contrast the Finale is diffuse and lighter in character with its 1920’s-like pandiatonic piano solo, and a march section that parodies Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto (first movement, second theme) in places! If the work is eclectic it is also enjoyable and well-wrought leaving us with the wish that Dobrowen had composed more.
 

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Discussion Starter · #146 · (Edited)
Having chosen to complete what I promised, there will be a few more posts. St. Petersburg-based composer Alexander Kopylov (1854-1911) taught at the Imperial Court Choir where he had studied earlier. The current catalogue includes a recording (Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Antonio de Almeida; ASV) of his three independent orchestral works. They're not as sophisticated as those of his contemporaries, but at times they have a folk-music-based charm that I find appealing. The Scherzo in A, op. 10 is attractive and the trio has a fine melody. His Concert Overture in D Minor, op. 31 opens slowly with a stark unison passage. In the following allegro section there is a simple folk-like melody in F major with two ostinato variations. Development is limited and other tunes appear. The opening slow passage recurs in allegro tempo, and then the folk-like melody appears in a pastoral pedal-fifth supported version in the tonic major key. Harmonic variety contributes substantial interest in this work.

Kopylov’s Symphony in C minor, op. 14 is naïve at times yet worth hearing. The opening movement has structural similarities to the Concert Overture. Horn pedals create harmonic interest in the slow introduction, but the march-like allegro I find long-winded. A light scherzo follows; again there are structural similarities to another work, this time Kopylov’s earlier Scherzo in A. The trio section has a Russian-sounding melody and woodwinds are featured; the scherzo returns altered by syncopations. Next is an Andante in Ab major where Kopylov’s melodic gift shows in the extended opening string tune. The mood changes and becomes darker with subtle harmonic touches created by displaced notes of chords. The work closes with a brisk march-like finale.
 

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Discussion Starter · #147 · (Edited)
Medtner Re-Considered and Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Minor, op. 33 (1914-18):

Having re-read my Post #131 on Nicolay Medtner I think it’s too harsh. While not repudiating my earlier comments it's now necessary to balance them with more positive ones. After additional listening, the tragic Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor is certainly a triumph in my view. From the outstanding opening in the grand manner it continues in one non-standard movement with the form Exposition, “Development” – a set of variations – and Coda. Once explained the form is clear, while the piano figuration and contrasting textures throughout are remarkable. Medtner’s themes are good but together with their settings they don’t have the compelling emotional appeal of Rachmaninoff’s. Many make this comparison but I now think it’s better not to and won't again, instead appreciating the many fine passages in the work. Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 to follow.
 

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Discussion Starter · #148 · (Edited)
Medtner Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, op. 50 (1925-27):

Nicolay Medtner’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is, like No. 1, in C Minor. Formally, its three movements follow the outline of a traditional concerto, but for those interested in analysis there is much more going on than can be considered here. (In recent years academic interest in Medtner’s music has grown from its Russian base to include many other countries.) One thing that strikes me is the pronounced genre character of each movement: 1. Toccata; 2. Romanza; 3. Divertimento. Toccata means “touch-piece” and Medtner adheres to the original idea of a piece that explores different kinds of articulation and texture, not only virtuosity and perpetual motion. Virtuosity does feature in the stormy opening’s open fifths and galloping rhythms. The second theme is sentimental and pensive but builds in a march-like direction. Later on in the development there is delicate filigree for the right hand, followed by the return of militarism in a march and in machine-gun-like repeated notes. A long closing cadenza makes extreme demands on the performer.

In the lyrical Romanza in Ab Major that follows, Medtner’s late romantic side emerges in its wonderful melodic and harmonic appeal. The middle section is a scherzo while the opening returns with an attractive high-register obbligato above the melody. In the lighter finale (Divertimento), material from the opening movement returns in C major and triple meter, with hemiolas and other rhythmic devices of some complexity. There is a pastoral section suggesting folk-dance at times, perhaps the galumphing rustics of a fairy-tale, as this movement becomes an ironic counterpart to the Toccata.
 

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Discussion Starter · #149 · (Edited)
Nicolay Medtner Piano Concerto No. 3 “Ballade” in E Minor, op. 60 (1940-43):

Medtner’s Piano Concerto No. 3 “Ballade” opens in a striking way, with a bare major 3rd G-B suggesting the key of G major initially as does the motto G-B-D-C#-E. But G and B turn out to be the third and fifth of the tonic chord E minor, with tritone-related minor triads to follow. The mood is ominous with angry outbursts, and an unstable wavelike motion that pervades much of the work. The second movement is a short Interlude, the turning point that leads to a fast, march-like Finale. Later on, there is an expressive Db Major andante con moto section that I find especially beautiful. Wavelike motion leads eventually to a magnificent coda in E major where the work’s turmoil eventually subsides.

I heard this concerto at a Toronto Symphony concert many years ago and was impressed. It provides a fitting close to the Medtner Concerto Cycle. In carrying out this re-consideration of Medtner I couldn’t help but notice the wealth of fine recordings of these very difficult works, and the ongoing advocacy from Medtner supporters around the world. I’ve revised my opinion of Medtner upwards and see him as a success story over the long haul. His concertos are considered Valued Listening for the purposes of this thread.

We are now moving onwards to our last composer, the one that I was “afraid of” and am now starting to appreciate – Anton Rubinstein (1829-94). Starting with the Violin Concerto and two Cello Concertos, there are many beauties to be found in his music. I look forward to comments …
 

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Discussion Starter · #150 · (Edited)
It is worth remembering that Anton Rubinstein was "leader of the pack" among Russian composers writing concertos, and not only his piano concertos. His three significant concertos for solo stringed instrument and orchestra were previously unknown to me. The Violin Concerto in G Major, op. 46 (1857) was composed for Polish virtuoso Henryk Wieniawski. It’s an engaging work opening in a pastoral mood. The first movement’s melodies are notable for musicality and charm. In the development the violin passagework is convincing and there follows a contrasting expressive minor key section with violin-woodwind dialogue. The movement progresses to a triumphant close. In the Andante the violin makes an ethereal entry following pensive string and woodwind-brass passages. Later there is more intense double-stopped minor key writing. An excellent slow movement. The soloistic finale begins well, with a bouncy motif. The emphasis is on dynamic and registral range and on contrast of fast and slow passages. Violinist Takako Nishizaki contributes an able performance with the Slovak PO/Halasz (Naxos 2001).
 

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Discussion Starter · #151 · (Edited)
Rubinstein's Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, op. 65 (1864) was composed for cellist-composer Karl Davydov. Its three movements are played continuously. The first movement opens with a three-note motif on which the orchestral exposition is based. The cello part shows the influence of Italian opera in recitative-like and dialogic writing. A cadenza precedes the movement’s close. In the slow movement a mysterious chordal figure in the low strings is followed by the lyrical solo cello’s pensive melody. Wind solos come to the fore in back-and-forth interplay with the cello. Rubinstein’s melodic gift and an unerring sense of how it could be applied over the cello’s wide range sustain this attractive movement. The rondo finale marked Allegro con fuoco is actually quite genial for large stretches, with the composer as usual offering the cello plenty of opportunities to sing. After many challenging and emotional passages the tonic major key of A major is happily established. A 2-CD recording Anton Rubinstein: Orchestral Works includes this work played by the superb Alban Gerhardt with the Wuppertal SO.
 
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