Rudolf Barshai   (5-Melodiya 10 02228)
Item# C1294
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Rudolf Barshai   (5-Melodiya 10 02228)
C1294. RUDOLF BARSHAI Cond.Moscow Chamber Orch.: Symphonies Nos.1 - 8 (Beethoven). (Russia) 5-Melodiya 10 02228, recorded 1969-75, Boxed Set Edition. - 4600317022281


"One of the most prominent representatives of domestic music performing art of the 20th century, Rudolf Barshai was a man of amazingly versatile talents. His character combined obsession of a seeker and explorer of new sides to performance with an aspiration for his own creative way avoiding a beaten path.

The Moscow Chamber Orchestra founded by Rudolf Barshai in 1959 was the first orchestra of a kind in this country and instantly became hugely popular. Its tours were an equal success both at home and overseas, and it sold an impressive number of records. However, Barshai felt an urge to symphonic conducting and after a few lessons from Ilya Musin he successfully debuted in that walk of life as well. The recording of Beethoven's symphonies realized in 1969 to 1975 with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and musicians from the symphony orchestras of Moscow was Barshai's first truly serious effort as a symphonic conductor.

These recordings were praised by Dmitri Shostakovich ('We haven't heard a Beethoven like this since Klemperer'). Barshai's conducting manner is characterized with ultimate precision in terms of the score, transparent harmonization of themes allowing us to hear the entire orchestral 'vertical line' at all times sustained, reserves tempos.

Unfortunately, for the reasons not depending on the conductor, Symphony No.9 was never recorded. Nevertheless, this boxed set showcases an uncommon integrity of the conductor's interpretation and is of interest for the fans of Barshai's art and for a wide circle of listeners as well."

"While Rudolf Barshai made his reputation in the west as a conductor – above all in the music of Dmitri Shostakovich – he had already established himself as a top-flight quartet player and a viola virtuoso in his native Russia. Had his early life not been circumscribed by antisemitism and political repression, he might have achieved even more as an all-round musician of the highest accomplishment.

After completing a seven-year music school course in two years, he entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1938 to study the violin with Lev Zeitlin, who laid the foundation of his magnificent technique.

However, he wanted to form a full-time string quartet, and for that needed a good viola player, so he set about fulfilling the role himself, studying with Vadim Borisovsky, who revolutionised viola teaching in the Soviet Union. Much as William Primrose had in relation to Lionel Tertis in the west, he brought a new flexibility and virtuosity to bear on the instrument. He also studied conducting with Ilya Musin and composition with Shostakovich. In the meantime, in spite of the prevailing antisemitism, Barshai had become the leading viola soloist in the USSR, playing a fine Stradivarius which had belonged to Henri Vieuxtemps. His many recordings from this period included magnificent accounts of the Bach Chaconne and Hindemith's big solo Sonata.

In addition to recordings with his two quartets, he appeared on others as a member of all-star ensembles organised by the violinist Leonid Kogan, among them Fauré's c minor Piano Quartet, with Emil Gilels at the piano, selected Beethoven string trios and the Tchaikovsky Sextet, the latter perhaps the finest collective example of Russian string playing on record. Barshai also taught at the Moscow Conservatory, and in 1955 started the Moscow Chamber Orchestra (MCO) as a part-time venture, gathering friends round him and working for six months before giving a concert.

Within a year the MCO was granted official status, working with the finest Soviet soloists: Gilels, Kogan, pianist Sviatoslav Richter, violinist David Oistrakh and the trumpeter Timofei Dokshitser. For the smaller Baroque works the players stood, except for the cellists, and the repertory extended to Haydn, Mozart and Schubert. In the early years Barshai appeared with the orchestra as violin and viola soloist, in concert and on record. With Oistrakh, he recorded Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante, and on the MCO's first visit to Britain in 1962 he recorded it again with Yehudi Menuhin. He also directed the MCO and Menuhin's Bath Festival Orchestra in a still unsurpassed record of Tippett's Concerto for Double String Orchestra. As the MCO's expanding repertoire absorbed more of his energies, he wound down his playing activities, but not before he had recorded Berlioz's HAROLD IN ITALY with Oistrakh conducting.

The MCO played Bartók's Divertimento, and Barshai had close links with a number of Soviet composers, notably Boris Tchaikovsky, Moisei Vainberg and Alexander Lokshin. The high point of this phase was the 1969 premiere of Shostakovich's 14th Symphony.

Another landmark was a superb recording of Mozart's symphony cycle, the first to include all the repeats, although some were cut in western releases. Barshai's interpretations of the last five symphonies were among the finest ever recorded, culminating in a colossal – but always perfectly scaled – account of the fugal finale of the ‘Jupiter’. A Beethoven symphony cycle was also successful, although there his attention to detail was sometimes self-defeating.

From 1967 he conducted other orchestras and, along with Kyrill Kondrashin, was responsible for popularising Mahler's music in the USSR. However, invitations to guest-conduct foreign orchestras were generally refused by the Gosconcert agency without reference to him. Sometimes the MCO was sent on tour without him, with a stooge in charge. His third marriage was even undermined by KGB misinformation, given to his Japanese wife, Teruko Soda, while he was on tour. His second wife had been the Russian artist and costume designer Anna Martinson, and he had a son by each.

By the mid-1970s he had had enough, and applied to work abroad for a year. Told that he could go for good or not at all, in 1976 he emigrated to Israel, where he worked with the Israel Chamber Orchestra until 1981. Suddenly, he became a man without a past. The country of his birth disowned him; his name was removed from history books and even from the sleeves of his records; the Borodin Quartet and Moscow Chamber Orchestra toured without mentioning him in their programme material; and when a Soviet biography of Shostakovich was published in the west, Barshai, like his fellow emigres Kondrashin and Rostropovich, was absent from its pages.

Although he patiently rebuilt his career as a conductor and still had many successes to come, his concerts never again generated the excitement they had raised in the 1950s and 60s. He was chief conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (1982-88), but in general British musicians did not take kindly to his perfectionism – the members of one chamber orchestra nicknamed him ‘Dr No’. ‘He was wonderful to play for, but he was not as good a conductor technically as he was musically, and so he used to explain a lot’, said a fellow violist who often played under him. ‘Some orchestras don't like that’. He was also music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (1985-88).

In 1993 he made a triumphant return to Russia to conduct Mahler's Ninth Symphony with the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, a performance issued on CD, as was his live Russian performance of Beethoven's MISSA SOLEMNIS two years later. In 1994 he directed international forces in the Verdi REQUIEM, televised worldwide from Berlin. Much acclaimed was the cycle of 15 Shostakovich symphonies recorded for West German Radio between 1992 and 1998 with that organisation's orchestra, and released commercially. Shostakovich endorsed Barshai's transcription of the Eighth Quartet for string orchestra, and he later made similar versions of the Third, Fourth and Tenth Quartets, recording all four twice, with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Giuseppe Verdi Symphony Orchestra of Milan, of which he was conductor emeritus from 2005. In 2004 he recorded his own orchestration of Mahler's Tenth Symphony, as well as the Fifth Symphony, with the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie. Other arrangements included Prokofiev's’Visions Fugitives’ and Bach's ‘Musical Offering’ and ‘Art of Fugue’, all recorded with the MCO, and scenes from Prokofiev's ROMEO AND JULIET for viola and piano, recorded by him on his Strad. Despite ill health, he worked on revising the ‘Art of Fugue’ transcription virtually up to his death.”

-Tully Potter, THE GUARDIAN, 4 Nov., 2010