Russian Visionaries: From Glinka To The Firebird


You can't step into a concert hall without something from Russia being programmed. Yet in 1850, Russia barely had one major composer and handful of pianists, but within sixty years, their music scene dominated the world's concert halls. Who and how did this happen? Arbiter probes the problematic Russian psyche, starting with the writer Andrei Bely's agonizing over whether they are Europeans or from somewhere else, concluding they are Mongols at heart. The attractive music from Germany and France led Tchaikovsky to model himself after Mozart and rely on his colorful talents in melody, sound, and rhythm with the idea of showing that a Russian like him could take on any Westerner. Unlike his quest for approval, there arose a group of composers who studied and discussed folklore, fairy tales, myths, Central Asian traditions, and did all they could to shun the West. Known as the Mighty Five, they gave birth to Stravinsky, Scriabin, the path of representing their Old Believers, Mongol warlords, sects that practiced castration, and a movement in art and literature resulting in symbolism and seeking to transform all of humanity through occult and spiritual phenomena. Arbiter brings to light the image-conscious Igor Stravinsky gripped in an ecstasy as he conducts the work of his mentor Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, bringing him back to his own twenty-third year when he was still Rimsky's pupil and how his unexpected death cast him adrift and led to masterpieces shortly thereafter. Arbiter's latest expedition follows pioneers who sought to either imitate Western music or excavate native Pagan, mythic, and Central Asian sources. Performances by Konstantin Igumnov reveal a musician who straddled Tchaikovsky's westbound forays with the visionary mysticism of his peer Scriabin. When the American composer Henry Cowell arrived with his radical dissonant music, the Moscow musical agencies prohibited his performances and led to Igumnov defying the regime by arranging private hearings that created a furor for Cowell's new music, as Russia was becoming culturally isolated under Stalin. Performances include lost recordings by Erica Morini, Georg Szell, Alfred Hoehn, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Issay Dobrowen, Albert Coates, Michael Zadora, Konstantin Igumnov, Alexander Kamensky, Oskar Fried, Igor Stravinsky, Vassily Sapellnikoff, and Vladimir Sofronitsky. Features compositions by Tchaikovsky, Glinka, Prokofiev, Glinka-Balakirev, Musorgsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, Chopin, and Scriabin. Arbiter's sound restorations bring light and depth to recordings discovered within the last few years and made in the 1920s.