Nikolai Malko, Vol. VII  - Stravinsky    (St Laurent Studio YSL 78-288)
Item# C1405
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Nikolai Malko, Vol. VII  - Stravinsky    (St Laurent Studio YSL 78-288)
C1405. NIKOLAI MALKO Cond. Sydney S.O., New South Wales Police Choir, William Herbert, Phyllis Rodgers, Neal Easton, Raymond Beatty, Ronald Jackson, Raymond Macdonald & Murray Pal: OEDIPUS REX - Live Performance, 1959; NIKOLAI MALKO Cond. Danish National S.O.: Symphonie de psaumes - Part III - Live Performance, 19 Jan., 1950 (both Stravinsky). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL 78-288. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.


"While Stravinsky carried on an open affair with his mistress in Paris, his own wife was dying of tuberculosis in the south of France. Perhaps this accounts for some of the extraordinary anguish that gushes forth in the opening chorus of his OEDIPUS, and the vividness of the musical evocation of the stages of disease, deterioration, debilitation, and decay. And then denial.

The dazzling and seductive melismatic flourishes in OEDIPUS’ vocal lines show a brilliant mind at work, quick-witted, chameleon-like, able to transform itself to suit the occasion, and prone to repeat the word ‘clarissim.” All his life Stravinsky surrounded himself with a tireless and well-oiled publicity machine to ensure that he was the most famous living composer. Countless ghostwritten books and articles assure us of his supremacy, and the difference between his music and the music of the ‘other’ composer (Schönberg) was the difference between good and evil.

His autobiographies claim that his music is ‘pure’ – consummate form devoid of personal content, but simply to be admired for its astounding intelligence and beauty of craftsmanship. But of course his sterile, hollow, arrogant, stylish, dazzling, and seductive autobiographical writings consistently ignore or conceal the most important events in his life as a human being – as if, like Oedipus, it is enough to be king, universally praised (except by your jealous enemies) for your brilliance in solving riddles, but what got you to this point, your actual origins, and what actually sustains you, and what tragedies have occurred along the way must be suppressed. As if success is all that matters in life.

Fittingly, the Paris premiere of Oedipus was a failure. The history of drama is the history of failure – Oedipus, Hamlet, Phaedre, Masha, Winnie – these are not success stories. Sophocles’ point is that the understanding of and active compassion for failure are the measure of human greatness, that man is exalted only by humility, and that we only find ourselves once we are lost.

Of course Stravinsky told people that he chose the subject of Oedipus because the audience would already know the story, but you don’t tackle the most central myth in the history of Western civilization by accident, without noticing. And of course there are no surprises. Plato would say that we have all knowledge before birth, and upon entering this world we forget everything. Thus our passage on the earth is a process of remembering things which, deeply, we knew already. The word that Aristotle uses is recognition – to cognize something again.

Stravinsky needed to create a religious ritual of return in a modern social context that had lost all ability to share a sacred experience, that had exhausted and de-natured its store of religious vocabulary through an exploitive, excessive, and hypocritical theatricality. Needless to say, he could hardly confess his motives and ambitions in public in the brittle social whirl of Paris in the mid-1920s. So, to throw people off the scent he hired Jean Cocteau, a perversely brilliant artistic avatar who specialized at the time in reducing Greek tragedies to snappy psychological fashion statements.

On the positive side, Cocteau was famous, and Stravinsky liked being seen and photographed with famous people. But, finally, they had little in common artistically. Stravinsky’s first step was to neutralize Cocteau – making him rewrite the libretto three times and putting it into Latin. Latin offered a liturgical feeling, but it also provided a convenient linguistic mask for an exiled Russian who was travelling culturally incognito, denying his own birth and origin, and hoping to be crowned king in the next city he came to.

In OEDIPUS REX, Stravinsky makes a long journey towards discovering his own creative identity. Like Oedipus, he is trying on different masks, and making them his own. With the entrance of the Messenger and Shepherd, the truth comes out and his own mark as a composer finally asserts itself in the rhythms and rigor of their material. It is a major breakthrough.

Three years later, again writing in Latin, Stravinsky finally has the courage to admit in public that he is, like most composers throughout history, primarily a religious composer. He writes a symphony of psalms, putting for the first time the dedication at the top of the score that Bach started every work with: ‘To the glory of God’. Every note is pure Stravinsky.

- Peter Sellars, Loa Angeles Philharmonic

"Malko completed his studies in history and philology at Saint Petersburg University in 1906. In 1909 he graduated from the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, where he had included Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov and Lyadov among his teachers. He published articles on music criticism in the Russian press and performed as a pianist and later as a conductor. In 1909 he became a conductor at the Mariinsky Theatre and, six years later, the head conductor there. From 1909 he studied conducting in Munich under Felix Mottl. In 1918 he became the director of the conservatory in Vitebsk and from 1921 taught at the Moscow Conservatory. From 1921 to 1924 he shuttled between Vitebsk, Moscow, Kiev and Kharkiv, conducting in each of these cities. In 1925 he became a professor of the Leningrad Conservatory. He became conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in 1926 and conducted the world première of the Symphony #1 by his pupil Dmitri Shostakovich that same year, and the premiere of Shostakovitch's Symphony #2, dedicated to him, in 1927. Malko also conducted the premiere of Nikolai Myaskovsky's 5th Symphony. Myaskovsky's 9th Symphony was dedicated to Nikolai Malko. He was succeeded as director of the Leningrad Philharmonic by his pupil Yevgeny Mravinsky in 1938, and continued to teach at the Conservatory. With the outbreak of World War II in 1940, Malko settled in the United States, where he also taught conducting. His thoughts on conducting technique were gathered together and published in a volume entitled, THE CONDUCTOR AND HIS BATON (1950).

Malko recorded extensively for EMI in Copenhagen and then with the Philharmonia, in London. In 1951 he premiered Vagn Holmboe's 7th Symphony with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra. In 1954 he came to Britain as principal conductor of the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra. In 1956 he moved to Australia, becoming chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra following the hurried departure of Sir Eugene Goossens. In 1960, the Danish King Frederick IX named Malko a Knight of the Order of Dannebrog. Malko continued in his position as Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra until his death in Sydney in 1961.”

- Ned Ludd

“Each of these disks, from Canadian engineer Yves St Laurent… [feature] St Laurent's natural transfer – made without filtering, like all his dubbings – it is easy to listen to, despite the surface noise.”

- Tully Potter, CLASSICAL RECORD QUARTERLY, Summer, 2011