C0081. EVGENY MRAVINSKY Cond. Leningrad Phil.: Shostakovitch, Tschaikowsky, Mussorgsky, Glinka, Glazunov, Mozart, Beethoven & Wagner; Orchestral Rehearsal; Mravinsky on Life and Nature. 12-Erato 69890, w.Elaborate Brochure . Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 825646989058
“Yevgeny Mravinsky was probably the best 20th-century conductor to have had hardly any American career, apart from respectful attention to his occasional recordings. Mravinsky (1906-88), the leader of the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Philharmonic from 1938 until his death, toured Western Europe a few times. But mostly, he stayed within the confines of the Soviet bloc.
He was hindered from establishing a full-fledged Western career by the Cold War, of course. Though devoutly religious, he was clever and talented enough to sustain one of the most prominent positions in the Soviet Union for half a century. But in his later years, he became increasingly withdrawn, and rarely conducted in his native Leningrad, let alone elsewhere.
Now the French Erato label has filled the gap in Europe with a 12-CD set of mostly late recordings. Also not scheduled for American release is a disk billed as rehearsal excerpts, which is really something else (45780). There are two Wagner performances.
These are live Russian recordings, ranging from 1964 to 1984, with the bulk dating from the early 80s. The sound is good but sometimes slightly unbalanced. The Deutsche Grammophon Tchaikovsky symphonies were more smoothly recorded, and they caught Mravinsky younger; in his later years he was often ill and conducted rarely, in an increasingly restricted repertory. But all these performances remain representative, and considerable, achievements.
To judge from this overview, Mravinsky, for all his isolation and instinctive response to Russian music, was an internationalist and a modernist in interpretive style. These are not Romantic performances in the indulgently emotive sense. In his vigor, intensity and precise articulation of detail, Mravinsky recalls Arturo Toscanini. A famed autocrat, Mravinsky rehearsed each performance for hours, and the painstaking yet sensuous care shows up time and again.
Tempos are usually brisk and lively, and rubato is subtle. Balances are adjusted to reveal the pungent individuality of each section of the orchestra. The recording engineers' preferences may be a factor, although Valery Gergiev, the current leader of the Kirov Opera in St. Petersburg, confirmed recently that this reveling in instrumental color was characteristic of Mravinsky's conducting.
Mravinsky was best known for his performances of Russian music, and his impassioned commitment to the music of Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich was indeed special. He led the first performances of several Shostakovich symphonies, and #8 is dedicated to him. Part of his success in the Erato release is his ability to give full play to national idioms (snappy folk dances, dark modal harmonies) yet sustain the line and define the structure in the best modernist fashion.
In Shostakovich, especially, too many contemporary conductors opt for an overblown ponderousness, as if the composer were a kind of Slavic Bruckner. Mravinsky proves that Shostakovich's drama, as well as his wit and unaffected beauty, is best conveyed by playing the music urgently and directly, as indicated in the scores. He is helped by the qualities of the Leningrad Philharmonic, which, of course, he shaped over the years: lush yet never soupy strings, wonderfully edgy woodwinds and nearly impeccable ensemble.
But what made Mravinsky a model for younger Soviet conductors -- who speak of him with deep respect, though few can claim to have felt close to this most private of men -- was his mastery of non-Russian music, especially that of the Germanic mainstream.
Of such disks here, the Mozart, though perfectly fine, is the least distinctive. The Beethoven is consistently first-rate, and the Wagner is even better. Mravinsky proves an unerring Wagnerian, despite his limited experience with the operas.
The orchestra sounds as effective here as in the Russian repertory. And his wonderfully buoyant, surging traversals of these chestnuts make them well worth hearing anew. One hopes that this release is merely the beginning of exhumations from the Mravinsky archives; few maestros of the recorded era are worthier of such attention.�
- John Rockwell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 3 May, 1992
“This box set demonstrates the immense interpretative and commanding powers of the great Evgeny Mravinsky, certainly one of the legendary conductors of his generation. It's a good pen portrait of the conductor in some of his best loved works such as the Tchaikovsky 5th and Shostakovich's massive 12th symphony (here dispatched in an astonishingly quick timing of just under 28 minutes).
But there are also other treasures including some odd numbered Beethoven symphonies and the 'Pastoral' which truly spring to life out of the pages, the finales of the 5th and 7th are certainly cases in point. Mravinsky's Mozart is slightly heavy handed although one cannot begrudge the nobility and pathos which permeates #39. There are also some intriguing excerpts from Glazunov's rarely heard ballet, RAYMONDA and other short pieces such as Glinka's RUSSLAN AND LYUDMILLA overture and Mussorgsky's DAWN OVER THE MOSCOW RIVER. I also greatly enjoyed the Wagner excerpts and the set of rehearsals and interview which make up the final disc.
Definitely a set for the Mravinsky enthusiast although the only qualm I have is the rather short timings on almost all discs which rarely go above 50 minutes. However this is definitely a fine memorial to one of the greatest conductors of all time and is amply proved here, not just in the repertoire with which he is mostly associated.�
- Gerald Fenech, Classical.Net