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Great Conductors of the 20th Century: Nikolai Golovanov
Alexander Glazunov, Felix [1] Mendelssohn, Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky
Great Conductors of the 20th Century: Nikolai Golovanov
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (7) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (3) - Disc #2


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Golovanov's Artistry In Decent CD Transfers
Jeffrey Lipscomb | Sacramento, CA United States | 05/25/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"As the CD notes here by Rob Cowan observe, "Learning a work through a Golovanov interpretation is, in a sense, like confronting its prompting inspiration head on. And while roughshod orchestral playing and indifferent recorded sound can, on occasion, leave a bewildering impression, the 'charcoal sketch' nature of Golovanov's best performances makes even familiar music sound fresh-minted." Amen to that, Mr. Cowan. I have collected nearly everything Golovanov ever recorded, starting with miserably-pressed Soviet LPs purchased in the 1970's, most of them acquired from then-importer Four Continents Book & Record Shop during visits to Manhattan.

Perhaps you should be forewarned: many listeners do NOT share my affection for Golovanov's visionary, uninhibited, wildly impassioned and very subjective conducting. In fact, Jed Distler's damning review of these CDs (a '2' rating on a scale of 1 to 10) at classicstoday concludes by saying "Anyone who buys this revolting release deserves it!" Well, what Mr. Distler hears as REVOLTING sounds utterly REVOLUTIONARY to my ears. Golovanov even achieves what I previously had thought was an impossible task: he makes Glazunov's intractable 6th Symphony sound like a masterpiece!

As usual, IMG has done a strange job of assembling what it feels is a "representative" collection of a conductor's artistry. Why, for example, do we get so much Liszt here - or, for that matter, so little. Golovanov (1891-1953, student of Ippolitov-Ivanov) recorded all of Liszt's tone poems (I have most of the others on Melodiya LPs, and generally IMG's transfers of just five of them here are quite good). So we have SOME but not ALL of Golovanov's Liszt here - either IMG should have given us ALL of them, or just selected ONE (perhaps the Orpheus, a fascinating contrast to Beecham's) and moved on to more diverse examples of Golovanov's repertoire. Fond as I am of these Mendelssohn selections, they certainly lack the quicksilver delicacy one hears in versions by Maag, Kletzki and Schuricht. The live 1812 Overture is wonderfully over the top and exciting, but it has already appeared in better sound on the Boheme CD label, coupled with Golovanov's UNIQUE Tchaikovsky Pathetique (see my review).

I am grateful that IMG had the good sense to include Golovanov in this series (IMG's omission of such important conductors as De Sabata, Knappertsbusch, Abendroth, and Silvestri was an egregious oversight). Golovanov was a tremendously important and influential conductor (clearly Svetlanov, Kondrashin and Khaikin learned a lot from him style-wise). Unlike Mravinsky, who confined himself to orchestral repertoire, Golovanov was also Russia's leading opera maestro. He recorded the first-ever (and best-ever) recordings of "Boris" and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Sadko," plus several other Russian operas.

Here are some magnificent recordings that should have been considered for a more encompassing portrait of Golovanov at his best. Many of these are now out of print, so their inclusion by IMG would have been most welcome.

1. Borodin's 2nd Symphony - one of the greatest readings of ANYTHING ever recorded. It was formerly on a Multisonic CD, coupled with a fine Rostropovich/Sanderling account of Prokofiev's Symphony-Concerto (see my review).

2. Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition: Golovanov's reading simply puts everybody else's in the shade. It was once available on an Arlecchino CD with thrilling accounts of Night on Bald Mountain, the Prelude to Khovanschchina, the Polonaise from Boris Godunov, and Taneyev's rare Cantata.

3. Grieg's In Autumn, Peer Gynt Suites 1 & 2, the Lyric Suite, and A Swan were all once on Arlecchino. These constitute the best case for Grieg as a master composer that I have ever heard.

4. All the Liszt tone poems that Golovanov recorded were formerly on Arlecchino. These readings simply blow away the timid Haitink and tepid Masur accounts, which were conducted with all the enthusiasm of someone changing a baby's extremely soiled diaper.

5. Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade (with David Oistrakh, no less, as violin soloist) was also on Arlecchino.

6. Scriabin's Piano Concerto (with soloist Heinrich Neuhaus, teacher of Richter & Gilels) was until recently available on a Multisonic "Russian Treasures" CD, coupled with superb versions of Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations and Saint-Saens' 1st Cello Concerto (both with Sergei Knushevitsky and the Moscow Radio conducted by Alexander Gauk). I prefer this lyrical account of the Scriabin to the Solomon/Dobrowen reading on Testament but, unfortunately, both of those recordings suffer from poor sound.

7. Rachmaninov's 3rd Symphony was on Arlecchino - a scorching performance that ranks with Koussevitzky's & the composer's own. What a shame that Golovanov never recorded the Symphonic Dances - but at least we have BMG's great account by Kondrashin.

8. Tchaikovsky's Symphony #1 "Winter Dreams," a fabulous reading, was coupled with that composer's rare cantata "Moscow" on a Dante/LYS CD.

9.. Many of Golovanov's greatest recordings (in their best transfers) can still be found on the Boheme CD label. These include his extraordinarily subjective Pathetique, Scriabin's Symphonies, a brilliant Rachmaninov Symphony #2, Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini, Kalinnikov's 1st Symphony, and other works.

10. Hopefully, other rarities will surface on CD, such as Beethoven's 1st Symphony and the Triple Concerto with Oistrakh/Knushevitsky/Oborin (on 78s that I have never heard), his Wagner Overtures, and Tchaikovsky's Marche Slav.

If you are in the mood for a string of stunning epiphanies, simply go out and buy this CD set. But be prepared to brace yourself: this is powerful stuff!

Highly recommended.