C1280. SERGE KOUSSEVITZKY Cond. Boston S.O., w. Maria Kurenko, Roland Hayes, Dorothy Cornish & Robert Collins: MISSA OECUMENICA (Gretchaninoff), Live Performance, 26 Feb., 1944, w.broadcast commentary; MARIA KURENKO, w.Gretchaninoff (Pf.), recorded 25 April, 1941; NINA KOSHETZ, w.Gretchaninoff (Pf.), recorded 15 April, 1929: Gretchaninoff Songs. (Canada) Immortal Performances IPCD 1036. Transfers by Richard Caniell; Essay by Larry Friedman. - 748252900302
“The MISSA OECUMENICA released by Chandos (coupled with the Fifth Symphony; the Russian State Symphony conducted by Valery Polyansky) is, in effect, immediately blown out of the water by the sheer visceral choral assault of the opening of the ‘Gloria’ on the present Boston/Koussevitzky account....The soloists are excellent, shining in their contributions to the ‘Credo’....The tenor, Roland Hayes, is beautifully sweet-toned...Kurenko is gorgeously expressive....the ‘Agnus Dei’ is unbearably moving... The subtleties of the music, along with the intensity of feeling oozes conviction....
There’s more. The composer himself, no less, on the piano for 14 songs (Kurenko sings 11 of them, Nina Koshetz the remaining three). There is huge joy to be found here.... The recording is excellent, the pianist-composer’s subtleties perfectly audible....All in all, a clear must-have for all lovers of Russian music.”
- Colin Clarke, FANFARE, May/June, 2014
“This broadcast is the first time music lovers outside Boston’s Symphony Hall heard this work, the premiere occuring two days previously with the composer and his wife in the audience. So far as we can determine, this is the first time the premiere of Gretchaninoff’s MISSA has ever been published in any form. The recording required only marginal dimensionalization — essentially what you hear is the broadcast sound as transmitted on 22 November, 1944.”
- Richard Caniell, Program Notes
“Alexander Tikhonovich Gretchaninov was a Russian Romantic composer who started his musical studies rather late, because his father, a businessman, had expected the boy to take over the family firm. Gretchaninov himself related that he did not see a piano until he was 14 and began his studies at the Moscow Conservatory in 1881 against his father's wishes and without his knowledge. His main teachers there were Sergei Taneyev and Anton Arensky. In the late 1880s, after a quarrel with Arensky, he moved to St. Petersburg where he studied composition and orchestration with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov until 1893. Rimsky-Korsakov immediately recognized Gretchaninov's extraordinary musical imagination and talent and gave him much extra time as well as considerable financial help. This allowed the young man, whose parents were not supporting him, to survive. Out of this came an important friendship, which only ended in 1908 with Rimsky's death. As such, it is not surprising that Rimsky's influence can be heard in Gretchaninov’s early works.
Around 1896, Gretchaninov returned to Moscow and was involved with writing for the theatre, the opera and the Russian Orthodox Church. His works, especially those for voice, achieved considerable success within Russia, while his instrumental works enjoyed even wider acclaim. By 1910, he was considered a composer of such distinction that the Tsar awarded him an annual pension. Though Gretchaninov remained in Russia for several years after the Revolution, he ultimately chose to emigrate, first to France in 1925, and then, at the age of 75, to the United States in 1939. He remained in the U.S. the rest of his life and eventually became an American citizen. He died in New York at the age of 91 and is buried outside the church at Rova Farms, a Russian enclave in Jackson Township, Ocean County, New Jersey.”
“Gretchaninoff's work as a composer embraces all branches of music. In opera, in symphony, in chamber music and in liturgical music, Gretchaninoff has created inspired and profound works which have enriched Russian musical literature. But perhaps the most deeply felt and original of his compositions are in the field of song. His subtle knowledge of the potentialities of the human voice, and the extraordinarily beautiful piano accompaniment, which never intrudes but always gives expressive illustration to the text, make his romances and songs unsurpassed in the vocal literature of Russia and, indeed, of the rest of the world. Many of his songs long ago became popular both in Russia and in other countries. Thus, at the beginning of this century there was no important singer in Russia whose repertory did not include Gretchaninoff's songs. It may be said that Gretchaninoff's songs were as popular in Russia at that time as Schubert's or Schumann's are in Germany. Subsequently these songs spread to Western Europe and America as well. The songs of Gretchaninoff's early period gained wide popularity, being most easily understood by the wide public. But the most musically valuable and the most mature and inspired of his songs remained relatively less well-known. And yet it is precisely in these songs that the composer's individuality and musical inspiration attained their full stature.”
- V. L. Pastukhov, Program Notes
“Kurenko was especially famous as an interpreter of Gretchaninov. The composer had left Russia in 1925 and now spent most of his time in Paris and the USA….She was his preferred interpreter of his songs and they gave several all-Gretchaninov [recitals] together….”
- Larry Lustig, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 1997
“Roland Hayes was one of the first Black artists to break the color barrier, but it was a long and stony road he trod. Though his self-produced recital début in Boston’s Symphony Hall in 1917 was a critical success, racist roadblocks led him to Europe where he became a great celebrity….Hayes was both a musical and prophetic hero in my family....”
- Robert A. Moore, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, May / June, 2011