I was extremely excited about this disc when it was released; this was the first modern recording of Prokofiev's "Zdravitsa" (there is a recording from 1980 on Melodiya but it's always been hard to find..impossible to get was a recording from the 60s, also on Melodiya) I believe this IMP offering was the only other available recording, until a Chandos disc surfaced around 2003), for chorus and orchestra. Tchaikovsky's "Ode to Joy" Cantata is a world premiere commercial recording, and I do not know if others have been released since then; I would assume so. The original version of Tchaikovsky's "Romeo & Juliet" Overture had been recorded before but it's lesser known to the revised version, which needless to say has likely been recorded 210 times. I do prefer the original treatment here.
Prokofiev composed "Zdravitsa" in 1939, the same year that he wrote one of his masterpieces, the cantata "Alexander Nevsky" (actually it was re-arranged as a cantata in 1939, the original score was composed in early 1938, for the Sergei Eisenstein epic) to which is bares a resemblance in character. Zdravista was recorded during the war years and was broadcast through the streets of Moscow as a propaganda tool, the original text paying homage to Stalin on his 60th birthday. These original recordings are believed to be lost or damaged. In the 1960s, the music was reset to a text by poet A. Machistova, glorifying Russian folkloric themes and its recent Communist heritage. At this point, it was recorded by the USSR Radio Orchestra and limited pressing was made available through the Melodiya label. This recording on IMP is a further revision of of Machistova's text, deleting references to Communism and the Party, and replacing it with praise and reverence for the homeland.
"Zdravitsa" is a dramatic and substantial work, similar too to "War and Peace" in several ways. It draws from Russian, Ukranian, Kurd and other folk sources. This is the world premiere of the final revision.
Tchaikovsky's Cantata set to Schiller was composed from Novemeber to December of 1865. It is scored for Soprano, Contralto, Tenor, Bass, Chorus and Orchestra and had its first performance on January 10th, 1866 at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. After it's publication in 1960, practically a century later, Ode to Joy was performed and recorded by the USSR Radio Orchestra, and like Prokofiev's Zdravista, a limited number of vinyl pressings were made available. There have been no subsequent recordings of this work, thus this recording is again a great "rescue mission". Tchaikovsky
suppressed publication of Ode to Joy, believing that it would cause him to be compared to Beethoven.
"Ode to Joy" was his final student work (for his graduation ceremony from the St. Petersburg Conservatory) and clearly it seems that Tchaikovsky was not pleased with it as he continued to ban it's publication during his lifetime. Anton Rubinstein apparently refused to perform it at a St. Petersburg concert unless it had "numerous revisions"; Cesar Cui described it as "utterly feeble" in his published review of the concert. Cui's criticism so hurt Tchaikovsky that it alienated the young composer forever from the "Mighty Five", the group of composers (including Cui) whose philosophy would otherwise surely have supported and encouraged him. The negative evaluations clearly were untrue, as one will hear; the young composer was but 21 years old at the time and Ode to Joy should now be considered Tchaikovsky's first masterwork.
Endorsement of the cantata came from the Russian music critic Herman Augustovich Laroche, who wrote to Tchaikovsky: "The cantata is the greatest musical event in Russia since "Judith". (by Serov) I will tell you frankly that I consider you the greatest musical talent to which Russia can look in the future" And despite the initial criticism, Rubinstein himself days later recommended Tchaikovsky for the sought-after position of professor of theory at the new Moscow Conservatory. The cantata reveals an impressive control of form and contrapuntal devices, not to mention a secure and inventive understanding of vocal and instrumental colors. Above all, it portrays a nobility of feeling.
In 1869 (and on the suggestion of Balakirev) Tchaikovsky wrote his fantasy-overture "Romeo and Juliet" for an 1870 concert in St. Petersburg. Later he was to rewrite the work, composing a new introduction, revising the development, the recapitulation and the finale. But the original is a striking work and has much material, subsequently removed from the later versions that is worthy of its creator.