Monday, February 23, 2015

Mikhail Nosyrev - Piano Concerto - Capriccio for Violin & Orchestra - 4 Preludes for Harp - A Fairy-Tale (Symphonic Poem) - Olympia, 2001

Here is one of Olympia's outstanding discs dedicated to the music of Mikhail Nosyrev. This is territory that's not obscure as say Kochurov (Northern Flowers) but Nosyrev is still a faint blip on the radar even for the specialist listener. Olympia has always been nothing less than a godsend, and I feel this way especially as Soviet/Russian music has always been dearest to my heart and soul. Onwards..let's get to know this neglected maestro..

To an outsider, the methods of the former Soviet state were virtually unfathomable, and produced idiosyncrasies that bordered on the absurd. A good example was the manner in which the system dealt with musicians and composers with whom the regime could not come to terms-partly just because of a lack of 'specialist knowledge'. Often, such people were sent to the provinces-although in this context "the provinces" included everywhere outside the huge cities of Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev. The former category (musicians) is exemplified by the famous Ganelin-Tarasov-Cherkasov Jazz Trio, which was "allocated" the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, and also by the avant-garde rock ensemble "Arsenal", which was stated to come from Gorky even though the musicians mostly lived and worked in Moscow. A good example of the second category, composers, is Mikhail Nosyrev, whose professional career ran its course almost exclusively in Voronezh in southern Russia. It should be noted that, despite everything, various witnesses testify that Nosyrev was content with his life as a highly regarded theater conductor in Voronezh (a city with a population approaching 1 million, and a significant center of music and culture). From Moscow, however, he received no official recognition.
In his case this was not the result of an excessive devotion to the avant-garde, but had a wholly different cause; nobody would touch with a 10 (make that 100) ft pole someone who had spent years in a prison camp!

Mikhail Nosyrev was born on May 28, 1924 in the city of Leningrad. It was in 1943 that Mikhail Nosyrev, then a 19 year-old music student (in Leningrad), was denounced by one of his teachers following a statement complaining about life in the USSR; this led to a sentence of death for him, his mother and his stepfather for "counter-revolutionary agitation". The sentence was commuted to ten years imprisonment, but he was rehabilitated only posthumously in 1988. A further Soviet absurdity is that the library of his Siberian gulag contained a volume that one would hardly have expected to find in such a place: Rimsky-Korsakov's book on instrumentation (!)
Nosyrev could thus continue his studies during his years in prison. Having served his sentence, he resumed his professional work as a conductor, initially in Vorkuta and Syktyvkar and then at the Voronezh Opera; here he was held in high esteem both as a conductor and as a composer. His career as a composer, which ended with his untimely death at the age of just 57, was also hindered by his enormous workload at the theater. In the mid-1970s for instance, his ballet The Song of Triumphant Love was played to packed houses at the Voronezh Opera (as it had done since January 1971) and, at the same time, he was conducting an impressive number of operas and ballets including l Pagliacci, Faust, Carmen, Rigoletto, La traviata, The Barber of Seville, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, and Giselle. He made guest appearances with with the theater ensemble in other cities such as Rostov, Smolensk, Kaliningrad, Sotchi, Samara and Krasnodar. He also wrote theater music for other companies in Voronezh, from dramas to Astrid Lindgren's "Karlsson on the Roof". 

Despite these commitments, Nosyrev managed to compose a significant amount of music, including four symphonies, concertos for violin, cello, and piano, three ballets, four string quartets and other chamber works. I think it's likely that there's an unspecified amount of music that is yet to be discovered, largely due to the ramifications of Nosyrev's life (indeed, this is all too common for many composers who musically came of age at this time). His music reveals the absolute mastery of orchestral sonority that he acquired as a violinist and conductor, and he was indeed able to play most of the instruments of the orchestra. His greatest problem as a composer was of a wholly different kind, and was superficially just a bureaucratic matter-he was refused membership of the Soviet Composer's Union. In practice, however, this caused him considerable difficulty, because membership of the union was a prerequisite if a composer's music was to be performed more frequently and in different places, or if a composer needed support of a more material nature. Only the personal intervention of Dmitri Shostakovich eventually secured the successful outcome that Nosyrev was admitted to the Composer's Union. 

The composer Vladimir Belyayev, a close friend of Nosyrev's in Voronezh, once wrote: "Two leitmotifs characterized Nosyrev's creative work: one the one hand, the motif of all-conquering love and the belief in happiness, and on the other hand the motif of life and death. For Nosyrev death was a reality that he had confronted in his prison cell. His orchestral works convey the emotions of a person who found himself on the fateful dividing line between life and death. Mikhail Nosyrev passed away at the zenith of his creativity, as though at the most exciting moment of a phenomenal game of chess (he was, moreover, an excellent chess player) that could now no longer be played to its conclusion". 

After his time in prison, Nosyrev began his career as a conductor and composer in Siberia rather than in European Russia-partly because it was normal for an ex-prisoner to spend some years in exile. During the years 1953-1958 he composed numerous theater scores for the theater in Syktyvkar, among them 'When the Acacias Bloom' and 'La Dame aux camelias'. There too, in 1957, he wrote the "Capriccio for Violin and Orchestra" (the same year saw the birth of his son, also named Mikhail, who 40 years later started to publish his father's complete works; he was the producer of these discs on Olympia). The style of the Capriccio is fairly traditional, especially by comparison with the symphonies, and the form-as is usual with a capriccio, is free. A dark bass melody develops in an upward direction; it is taken up first by the winds and then by the solo violin, and is then presented in ever-changing form by various instruments. The tempo, restrained at first, becomes faster and faster until the piece ends virtuosically, Prestissimo; in the faster passages the musical language is at times unmistakably Russian. Strikingly, the composer is not tempted to allow the elegance of the orchestral sound to overwhelm the soloist; instead, he maintains an optimal equilibrium between soloist and orchestra. 

The "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra" (one of my personal favorite piano concertos) was written considerably later. In 1971 Nosyrev had composed his Violin Concerto, and in 1973 his Cello Concerto was completed; with the intention of producing a triptych of concertos, he immediately began working on the Piano Concerto recorded here, completing the score on November 30th, 1974. On April 19th, 1975 the composer himself conducted the first performance with the Philharmonic Society Orchestra in Voronezh. The next performance did not take place until Febuary 13th, 1999, when the internationally renowned pianist Igor Zhukov played the solo part at a concert marking the 75th anniversary of the composer's birth. The very first bars of the opening 'Improvisata' make it clear that that some years have passed-the musical style clearly reflects the influence of Western avant-garde music, not least in the way the composer exploits various effects from the percussion. The essence of the piece nevertheless derives from Russian tradition, combined with certain elements rooted in the sound world of composers such as Debussy. The 'Ritmo ostinato' follows abruptly, a movement of obsessive stubbornness, a perpetuum mobile in which the wildness of the piano writing is slightly reminiscent of Prokofiev's Toccata, though here enriched by the presence of a virtuoso orchestra. After such excesses it would be unthinkable to start the next movement at a fast tempo, and so there follows an improvisatory dialogue between soloist and orchestra, which leads to a fugato episode in which the piano part is surprisingly chordal. The soloist now takes charge and, in a powerful piano cadenza, an overwhelming climax is built up, whereupon the orchestra returns fortissimo. The music then dies back to pianissimo, at which dynamic level the piano and a couple of percussion instruments bring the work to a conclusion. At the very end, the main theme of the finale returns to its original form, in a gentle A minor.

As mentioned before, Nosyrev could play almost all the instruments of the orchestra, and his favorite was the harp, "that strange instrument with its numerous pedals and colorful strings". The "Four Preludes for Harp" were written in Voronezh in 1964 (Nosyrev and his family had moved to that city in 1958). Nosyrev hoped to be able to invite a famous harpist there to give first performance, but his plan came to nothing; the Preludes were not performed until after his death, in a television broadcast to mark the 70th anniversary of his birth. The underlying character of these four attractive pieces is intimate and impressionistic.

Even as an inmate at the gulag near Vorkuta, some 1,500 miles northeast of Moscow, Mikhail Nosyrev-prisoner number 12385-composed a number of works. Of these, however, only a few have survived: the songs "A Beautiful Tale", and "Yesterday at Seven o'clock" to words by the Russian poet Nikolai Nekrasov, a Piano Sonatina, the symphonic poem "Skazka" (A Fairy-Tale), a Fantasy on Russian Folk-Songs, and the song "Dark Blue Color" to a text by the Georgian poet Nikoloz Baratashvili in a Russian translation by Leonid Maltsev, a fellow prisoner of the composer in the prison camp. The symphonic poem "A Fairy-Tale", written in 1947, would even in normal circumstances have been a remarkable achievement for a composer who was just 23 years old, but we should also bear in mind the conditions under which he was living in the prison camp. No one will be surprised by the very traditional nature of the work, nor by the presence of various affinities with Rachmaninov and to a lesser extent Scriabin; the maturity of the orchestral writing is astonishing. In one respect the composer leaves us in the dark-we are not told whether it refers to a particular fairytale, or indeed anything about its subject-matter. Here, Nosyrev admittedly had a famous predecessor; when Sibelius wrote "En Saga" (the title of which also means "fairytale") he also left us guessing as to its subject (could have been any number of legends, Finnish or otherwise). In the case of Nosyrev's piece, the ending sounds like a question mark-albeit one that might be interpreted, despite everything, as a sign of optimism, as the suggestion that outside the gulag there is another, more hopeful world. 

Track list:

1) Capriccio for Violin and Orchestra (1957) (11:36)

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1974) (24:52)

2) Improvisita. Moderato, a piacere (6:26)
3) Ritmo Ostinato. Allegro moderato (7:06)
4) Finale. Andante (11:14)

Four Preludes for Harp (1964) (9:53)

5) Adagio (1:58)
6) Andante (2:29)
7) Rubato (2:40)
8) Reflections of the sun. Presto (2:33)

9) Skazka (A Fairy-Tale) Symphonic Poem (1947) (11:39)




Tzadik said...

Hello all. I just want to quickly thank anyone who was kind enough to leave comments the last couple days. I had no time to get on the 'net this weekend and thus I will get back to you tonight when I have time to read comments! TZ

Ryan, Canton, OH, USA said...

How interesting! I've always enjoyed my CD of Nosyrev's "Song of Triumphant Love" by these same forces, so it's really cool to be able to hear some of his other work. I can only hope that it will have that same emotional glow about it that the ballet music does!

Willy zur Macht said...

Your commitment is admirable, and your introductive comments to these semi-unknown works and composers are precious (ha ha sorry for my horrible english)

Tzadik said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tzadik said...

Hi there Ryan, thanks for commenting. I hope you did enjoy this disc, I adore it myself. The disc you mention is another Nosyrev treasure, although I think I lost my copy of it. If you have a chance tell me what you thought! Best, TZ

Tzadik said...

Halo Willy, thank you for your kind words, happy to hear that you are enjoying the blog. BTW, your english is just fine, you write your thoughts down better than plenty of people in the states (I don't mean visitors here on the blog, but the public at large!!) TZ