Wednesday 30 September 2015

A new disc from Capriccio gives an opportunity to hear the some of the music that was being written by Alexander Mosolov in the early days of communist Russia

Alexander Vasil’yevich Mosolov (1900-1973) was born in Kiev and studied under Reinhold Glière (1874-1956), Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881-1950) and Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) at the Moscow Conservatory. Initially he was very much an arch-modernist but later adopted a more conventional style, drawing on central Asian folk music.

A new release from Capriccio concentrates on Mosolov’s earlier works from the 1920’s. The Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, Berlin  is conducted by Johannes Kalitzke  with Steffen Schleiermacher (piano) , Ringela Riemke (cello)  and Natalia Pschenitschnikova (soprano)

The most famous of all Mosolov’s works is the Iron Foundry, Op. 19 (1926-27) from his ballet Steel. For many this will probably be the only work of this composer that they are aware of. Johannes Kalitzke and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, Berlin build a swirling mass of pseudo industrial, repetitive sounds, something which must have sounded pretty modern and outrageous even in the 1920s.  It is a raucous piece that, after just over three minutes, just stops.

The Andante lugubre (Lento) of Mosolov’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.1, Op14 (1927) opens quietly and brooding as a plaintive melody appears. The music rises up as the piano is heard in the orchestral texture, underpinned by percussion before it strides forward rather in the manner of Prokofiev, becoming ever more fractious. Soon a solo limpid, slow passage for piano arrives that becomes increasingly strident. The orchestra re-join to push the music forward to a jazz like slow section for orchestra, a rather curious episode where the music grows in vacuous, rather sleazy sounds. Eventually the music moves stridently forward, again recalling Prokofiev, before quietening only to suddenly start up again to dart to the rumbustious coda.

Brass introduces the Tema con Concertini (Lento sostenuto) as the piano is accompanied by a heavy clumping orchestra. Soon a skittish orchestral section moves around the piano theme before a wild violin is heard as the music tries to slow, but a raucous orchestra pushes the music ahead. Often the music sounds as though it might break down with Mosolov reaching a very modernist style. The piano enters to help regain a coherence and forward drive soon leaping into a manic, wild episode, rushing ahead. There is a languid moment for piano and orchestra before the music again speeds and a trivial little tune for piccolo is heard. The cadenza slowly works over the material, building into some formidable passages, brilliantly executed by Steffen Schleiermacher. The orchestra re-joins to lead with the piano to a dynamic and formidable coda.

The orchestra leaps in to open the Allegro. Molto marcato before falling in order to slowly build the music with piano through more raucous and skittish passages running madly forward with continual orchestral outbursts. Eventually the piano takes the lead to hurtle forward, with all of the orchestra having a say, to a massive coda.

This piano concerto has the feel of a more garish Bartok or Prokofiev concerto. Structurally it is a little rambling but is teeming with wild ideas.

Surely only a Soviet composer could write a piece of music with such a name Tractor's Arrival at the Kolkhoz. It is, like Iron Foundry from his ballet Steel. It opens with an unexpectedly tranquil, gentle theme, cleverly pointed up by lovely instrumental ideas. The music soon gains a flow with the strings bring some fine sounds. There are many fine, unusual instrumental details before the music suddenly takes off leaving all tranquillity aside, the brass section pushing forward, Mosolov finding his usual bright, colourful raucous sound. There are more moments of lesser drive before the orchestra plays what sounds like a popular song to drive to the end.

With Legend for Cello and Piano, Op. 5 (1924) one might hope for a gentler piece. It does open with a quiet yet lively theme for the piano to which the cello joins and soon slows to a melody for cello with a flowing piano accompaniment. However the music soon picks up the tempo with a percussive piano part. The cello brings slow harmonics before a slow melody, rising a little in passion. The piano part becomes more strident building with some large chords and scales for piano to a sudden end.

It certainly is a more thoughtful, if rather schizophrenic piece. It receives a very fine performance here.

With his Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 3 (1924) Mosolov slowly lays out a motif, each time separated by a chord. The music suddenly speeds up as the motif is developed with some pretty formidable passages, terrifically played here by Steffen Schleiermacher. This is a thoroughly modernist piece but of much more interest than perhaps the other works on this disc. Soon the music falls quieter in a delicate, thoughtful section. The theme is developed through a more quiet and thoughtful passage before building with a dynamic downward rushing motif and strident chords. The way Mosolov structures and builds his material is much more impressive, even though it is the earliest work here. The music moves through some formidable passages to a peak before slowing with heavy chords to end.

Four Newspaper Announcements, Op. 21 must constitute the oddest work on this disc. Mosolov sets four very ordinary texts or ‘announcements’ for soprano and piano yet brings much feeling and drama to the piece. With such texts as ‘Watch out all: excellent leeches can only be purchased at modest prices from Dr. Ralph Mutschelknaus’ this piece is by turns full of dissonance, declamatory and excitable as well as thrilling and sinister. Soprano Natalia Pschenitschnikova gives a superbly characterised performance brilliantly accompanied by Steffen Schleiermacher, bringing out Mosolov’s intended irony.

On the evidence of this disc Mosolov was not the subtlest of composers yet there are moments, particularly in the piano sonata, where he is well worth hearing. Certainly this new disc gives an opportunity to hear the type of music that was being written in the early days of communist Russia. 

The performances are excellent and the recording is immediate if rather dry. There are informative booklet notes together with German texts and English translations. 

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