Here is another prime example of musical gold-mining courtesy of ASV (Academy Sound & Vision), one of the finest labels during the 1990s. One of their specialties as you likely already know if you know ASV, and to my extreme delight, was music by lesser-known composers of the former Soviet Union. The recordings under the batons of Loris Tjeknavorian and Antonio de Almeida are all gems especially. If you love lush, Romantic Russian music that can recall composers such as Borodin, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, you are definitely in for a treat. Aleksandr Kopylov's (1854-1911) symphony is a substantial and sweeping work, really quite tuneful and entirely memorable. The "Concert Overture" is my favorite work here after the symphony, however the memorable 12 minute "Scherzo in A" too is also a delight - one instantly feels as if they have always known this work; it has a certain familiarity that is almost uncanny! This recording is just superb, and it seems to do everything right, however as Kopylov wrote such a small amount of music, all of which is of the highest quality - I do hope that other labels will take a stab at his colorful palette (CPO/Naxos, Toccata, Chandos....anyone??).
|One of the few images of Kopylov, likely aged around 30 years|
This disc actually offers all of the published orchestral works of Alexander/Aleksandr Kopylov. He was a contemporary of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov and indeed an eloquent exponent of late 19th century Russian Romanticism.
Unlike the major figures in Russian music of the period, who were mostly associated with highly influential schools (the Moscow and St. Petersburg Conservatories and Balakirev's Free Music School), Kopylov received his musical education at the Imperial Court Cappella. The Cappella was an important center for church music and provided singers for state and official occasions. It boasted the finest choir in Russia, and indeed it deeply moved Berlioz and Schumann during their visits to Russia. Kopylov entered the Cappella in 1862 at the age of eight. In addition to receiving training as a chorister he also took violin lessons with Mikhail Kremenetsky, who had himself been educated at the Cappella and had taught violin there since 1858. This training proved useful for in 1872 Kopylov became a violinist in the orchestra of the Aleksandrinsky Theater. Although he had failed to gain admission to the St. Petersburg Conservatory that year, he began taking lessons in harmony with one of his former teachers at the Cappella, the aging Czech-born Josef Hunke, and private lessons in composition from Rimsky-Korsakov and Liadov. Kopylov remained as a teacher at the Cappella for more than 20 years.
|Copy cover of the score for the Symphony, dedicated to Liadov.|
In 1883 Balakirev was appointed administrator of the Imperial Cappella with Rimsky-Korsakov as his assistant. Rimsky-Korsakov wrote in his 'A Chronicle of my musical Life': "The four teachers - Smirnov, Azeyev, Syrbulov, and Kopylov were knowledgable and experienced people. Kopylov taught violin, piano, church singing and discipline". It was through Kopylov's professional association with Rimsky-Korsakov that he was drawn into the Belyayev Circle in the mid 1880s. (Mitrofan Belyayev was a wealthy timber merchant whose abiding passion for music led him to found the regular Russian Symphony Concerts and a publishing house for promoting the works of young Russian composers) Being an amateur viola player, he initiated weekly soirées of chamber music held on Fridays. Among the works played, and later published by Belyayev, were two books of short pieces for string quartet known as "Les Vendredis" which were composed by the members of the group. The last (seventh) piece of the second book was a Polka in C by Kopylov. In fact, Kopylov was drawn to chamber music and completed four string quartets, one of which was awarded the Belyayev prize in 1894. More Substantial and of greater interest, however, is the "Symphony in C Minor" Op. 14 (dedicated to Anatoly Liadov and published by Belyayev) and the other orchestral works recorded here.
|The actual cover, in earthy tones & text grey, black, and red.|
The Symphony dates from the late 1880s and was first heard in St. Petersburg in a remarkable concert on Decemver 21st, 1889. In the first half Tchaikovsky conducted two of his own works and then handed over the baton to Rimsky-Korsakov who gave the first performance of two orchestral serenades by Glazunov and then the premiere of Kopylov's Symphony in C Minor. Some years later, Rimsky-Korsakov all but dismissed the work as "unimportant", finding as its only positive feature that it was "neat". Before we put too much trust in this assessment, however, it is worth remembering that in the same breath he was even more dismissive of Kalinnikov's First Symphony.
In their symphonies Kopylov and Kalinnikov owe an enormous debt to the earlier nationalist composers, and to Borodin in particular. Kopylov's orchestra, for example, is virtually identical to that employed by Borodin in his symphonies (double woodwind plus piccolo), and he begins his own work with an introduction based on the main subject in augmentation - a device clearly copied from Borodin's Symphony No. 1. The bold introduction bears all the hallmarks of the Russian school in the use of harmony, color, and orchestration; a feeling of anticipation is maintained throughout as the tempo is pressed forward urgently, and the main subject takes shape (Pesante. Allegro). The terse contours of the first subject are now properly revealed, its purely Russian qualities underscored by a certain similarity to the opening of theme of Mussorgsky's 'Intermezzo in B Minor'. One of the most appealing features of the music is the cleanness of the orchestral texture, and the engaging interplay between woodwind and strings (this is characteristic of Kopylov's work as a whole). The second subject, first presented by a solo clarinet, and later treated more expansively by the strings, is quite captivating. The Scherzo (Presto) is a ternary structure, whose bustling outer sections have unmistakable precedents in Russian symphonic music, and a central section (Allegretto) which again comes remarkably close to the sound world of Borodin (the scherzo of his Second Symphony). At the heart of the third movement (Andante) is a languorous theme which hovers intriguingly between sentimentality and nobility. The finale (Allegro), in the key of the tonic major, is optimistic in character and its themes are energetically worked out by the full orchestra.
The Scherzo in A, Op. 10 may have been intended as a preparatory study for the symphony, but in Liadov's 'Scherzo in D' Kopylov had a ready-made model for this independent orchestra piece. As with the symphony, the structure of the Scherzo is ABA, although here the presto outer sections are filled out by the addition of an enchanting second theme initially played cantabile by the cellos in a high register and a solo horn. The central trio (Moderato) presents a luscious melody announced first by the woodwind and then taken up by the strings against a decorative background provided by the woodwind and trumpets.
The style of the Concert Overture in D Minor is rather different from that of the Symphony or the Scherzo. It is dedicated to the orchestra of the Imperial Cappella, and the tone of the work is clearly quasi-religious. In the introduction (Andante) the first horn announces an arresting, solemn theme which is reiterated by the strings in imitation of a church chant. The lengthy and evocative introduction eventually gives way to an Allegro whose dramatic intensity and shifting accents recalls Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Easter Festival Overture'. The strings and woodwind respond to this restless music with a new theme in F major (meno mosso) of quiet but steadfast affirmation. What we have heard proves to be the exposition section of a sonata structure, and the themes are variously worked out in a development section of more than 150 bars. Finally the strings and brass again solemnly announce the opening theme and the recapitulation follows a slightly abridged form.