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Song of the Volga Boatmen, Etc / Alexandrov, Red Army Ensemble


Release Date: 09/18/2007 
Label:  Emi Great Recordings Of The Century Catalog #: 92030   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  TraditionalIsaak DunayevskyGeorgi NosovBoris Mokrousov,   ... 
Performer:  Artur EizenI. DidenkoEvgeny BelyaevAlexey Sergeyev,   ... 
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army ChorusSoviet Army Band
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 17 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

When the Red Army Ensemble visited Britain in 1956 Stalin had been dead just three years, the Suez crisis was about to break and glasnost was nothing but a pipedream. Yet their sell-out concerts marked something of a thaw in frosty post-war relations, with the 200-strong ensemble making a return visit in 1963. Only the political fall-out following the ‘Prague Spring’ prevented a further tour in 1968.

EMI were shrewd enough to tempt the Russians into the recording studio on their first visit. Such was the success of these recordings – not least in terms of profits – that EMI’s Walter Legge booked them for another session during their 1963 tour, when the remaining items were captured on tape. The only track not previously
Read more released is the last, God Save the Queen.

In the deeply cynical post-Communist era it may be hard to understand why this band appealed to British audiences but this newly remastered collection may go some way towards answering that question. First there is the unique, vibrant sound and, second, the choice of repertoire; Russian ‘lollipops’ with some English songs thrown in as ice-breakers. Couple that with mostly vivid sound and you have 77 minutes of pure, undiluted nostalgia.

The helter-skelter Song of Youth gets the disc off to a hair-raising start. There is an amazing ebullience, a real sense of collective enjoyment, that permeates this collection. The soloists also sing with great ardour and feeling, notably I. Didenko in A birch tree in a field did stand and several of the more memorable songs on this disc.

Soldiers and soldiering are never forgotten, though. In Far Away a frontier guard dreams of his beloved; there is a naïve charm to the music, with its echoes of Tchaikovsky, and even though the overt sentimentality might induce a snigger or two in 2007 it is still a strangely moving piece. That lone tenor rising from the chorus at the close will surely soften the hardest of hearts.

You are always beautiful is rather more extrovert, the balalaikas contributing to the song’s distinctively Russian flavour. The tenor Evgeny Balaiaev sings well, especially in the quieter moments. He may lack Didenko’s fuller, more burnished tone but he does manage a thrilling top note at the end. He is also wonderfully heroic in Kalinka.

Another soloist, the bass Aleksei Sergeiev, takes us on an atmospheric troika ride On Peter’s Street. Such is the warmth and vitality of the singing that one can hardly fail to respond to the music’s simple charms, just as those audiences probably did 50 years ago. And the sound of the Ukranian zither or bandura also brings a warming glow to the soldier’s memories of his beloved in Bandura. V. Federov’s stygian bass is a marvel here, even though he only has a minor role to play.

Given this ensemble’s provenance it would be surprising if there weren’t at least one Communist-era crowd pleaser, and The Soldiers’ Chorus is it. Taken from Shaporin’s opera The Decembrists it celebrates the early revolutionaries who rose up against the Tsar in 1825. Eminently forgettable, but at least it’s the only tub-thumper on the disc.

The next three items were recorded in 1963, and it shows in terms of general presence and refinement. Balaiaev makes a welcome return in Beautiful Moonlit Night, urging his loved one to come across the frozen fields and warm herself against him. It is not particularly memorable, though the tenor pulls off some sustained high notes. In Kamarinskaya the chorus and singers take a rest and the balalaika and orchestra take over for a rattling good instrumental break. But the real change comes with Annie Laurie, the first of the English songs on this disc. Balaiaev literally rises to the occasion, singing above a murmured chorus. It must have been a real showstopper all those years ago; there probably wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

With Black Eyebrows we are back to the older acoustic; the sound seems much more boxy than before, although the soundstage improves marginally in Ukrainian Song. Aleksei Sergeiev’s bass – and the overripe brass – are well caught, though it has to be said the orchestra and chorus sound a little fierce in the tuttis. The bass Artur Eizen sings Oh no, John! in deliciously accented English. Fortunately the somewhat restricted sound can’t disguise the color and humor in his voice.

Nearly three-quarters of the way through the disc and there is a sneaking suspicion that we may have heard all the best bits before the interval, so to speak. Song of the Plains and Snowflakes are not very memorable. Even Didenko – his ringing high notes notwithstanding – lacks that old magic. At least the rousing Song of the Volga Boatmen injects some much-needed brio into the program, as do the two tenors in the rather jolly Nut-brown Maiden. The boy gets his girl there, but in The Little Bells he can only dream of her. This is the kind of sentimental music this ensemble does so well, the tenor singing ardently above a thrilling but muted chorus. Nikolay Abramov’s high tenor is just spine tingling.

The last part of the disc begins with the ‘protest song’ If I had a hammer. The baritone begins it in Russian but ends it in English. The odd thing is they make it sound like a spiritual; it may sound a tad awkward but full marks for giving it a go. It feels like we’re moving into encore time with the Great War tune It’s a long way to Tipperary – which gets a marvellous outing, again in delightfully accented English – and their rendition of God Save the Queen, which sounds splendid, if a little stilted.

Hats off to EMI for issuing this most entertaining collection. Even if this music isn’t your usual fare there are bound to be some tracks that appeal. Certainly the first half of the program seems to have the best bits and all in pretty good (stereo) sound, but the evening does start to drag a little after that. No texts or translations included; still, there are brief synopses on each track so you can get the gist of what’s going on.

– MusicWeb International (Dan Morgan) Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Song of the Volga boatmen by Traditional
Performer:  Artur Eizen (Bass)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Written: Russia 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: Russian 
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, England (07/24/1956 - 07/27/1956) 
2.
Song of Youth by Isaak Dunayevsky
Performer:  Artur Eizen (Bass)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USSR 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: Russian 
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, England (07/24/1956 - 07/27/1956) 
3.
A birch tree in the field by Traditional
Performer:  I. Didenko (Tenor)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Written: Russia 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: Russian 
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, England (07/24/1956 - 07/27/1956) 
4.
Far Away by Georgi Nosov
Performer:  Evgeny Belyaev (Tenor)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Russia 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: Russian 
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, England (07/24/1956 - 07/27/1956) 
5.
You are always beautiful by Boris Mokrousov
Performer:  Evgeny Belyaev (Tenor)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USSR 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: Russian 
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, England (07/24/1956 - 07/27/1956) 
6.
Kalinka by Traditional
Performer:  Evgeny Belyaev (Tenor)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Written: Russia 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: Russian 
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, England (07/24/1956 - 07/27/1956) 
7.
Along the Piterskaïa by Traditional
Performer:  Alexey Sergeyev (Bass)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Written: Russia 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: Russian 
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, England (07/24/1956 - 07/27/1956) 
8.
Bandura by Traditional
Performer:  I. Savchuk (Tenor), V. Fedorov (Bass)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Written: Ukraine 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: Russian 
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, England (07/24/1956 - 07/27/1956) 
9.
The Decembrists: Soldier's Chorus by Yuri Shaporin
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920-1953; USSR 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: Russian 
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, England (07/24/1956 - 07/27/1956) 
10.
Ah! Lovely Night by Traditional
Performer:  Evgeny Belyaev (Tenor)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Date of Recording: 03/08/1963 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: Russian 
11.
Kamarinskaya by Mikhail Glinka
Performer:  E. Foektistov (Balalaika), Boris Feoktistov (Balalaika)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Band
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1848; Russia 
Date of Recording: 03/08/1963 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: Russian 
12.
Annie Laurie by Lady John Douglas Scott
Performer:  Evgeny Belyaev (Tenor)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: England 
Date of Recording: 03/08/1963 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: English 
13.
Dark Eyebrows by Traditional
Performer:  I. Savchuk (Tenor)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: Ukrainian 
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, England (07/24/1956 - 07/27/1956) 
14.
Poem of the Ukraine by Anatoly N. Alexandrov
Performer:  Alexey Sergeyev (Bass)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Russia 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: Russian 
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, England (07/24/1956 - 07/27/1956) 
15.
No! John, no! by Traditional
Performer:  Artur Eizen (Bass)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Written: USA 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: English 
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, England (07/24/1956 - 07/27/1956) 
16.
Oh, my field by Lev Knipper
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USSR 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: Russian 
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, England (07/24/1956 - 07/27/1956)
Composition written: USSR (1933 - 1934). 
17.
Snow Flakes by Traditional
Performer:  I. Didenko (Tenor)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: Russian 
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, England (07/24/1956 - 07/27/1956) 
18.
Ho ro, my nut-brown maiden by Traditional
Performer:  I. Savchuk (Tenor), Nikolay Abramov (Tenor)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Period: Romantic 
Written: Scotland 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: Russian 
Notes: This selection is a mono recording.
EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, England (07/24/1956 - 07/27/1956) 
19.
If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song) by Pete Seeger
Performer:  Alexey Sergeyev (Bass)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: English 
Notes: EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, England (07/24/1956 - 07/27/1956) 
20.
It's a long way to Tipperary by Jack Judge
Performer:  K. Gerasimov (Baritone)
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912; USA 
Date of Recording: 03/08/1963 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: English 
21.
God save the King/Queen by Anonymous
Conductor:  Boris Alexandrov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Soviet Army Chorus,  Soviet Army Band
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1744; England 
Date of Recording: 03/08/1963 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Language: English 

Sound Samples

Song of Youth (2007 Digital Remaster): Song of Youth
A birch tree in a field did stand (Beriozonka) (2007 Digital Remaster): A birch tree in a field did stand (Beriozonka)
Far Away (2007 Digital Remaster): Far Away
You are always beautiful (2007 Digital Remaster): You are always beautiful
Kalinka (2007 Digital Remaster): Kalinka
Along Peter's Street (2007 Digital Remaster): Along Peter's Street
Bandura (sung in Ukrainian) (2007 Digital Remaster): Bandura (sung in Ukrainian)
Soldiers' Chorus (from The Decembrists) (2007 Digital Remaster): Soldiers' Chorus (from The Decembrists)
Beautiful Moonlit Night
Kamarinskaya (2007 Digital Remaster): Kamarinskaya
Annie Laurie (2007 Digital Remaster): Annie Laurie
Black Eyebrows (sung in Ukrainian)
Ukrainian Poem (2007 Digital Remaster): Ukrainian Poem
Oh no, John! (sung in English) (2007 Digital Remaster): Oh no, John! (sung in English)
Song of the Plains (Meadowland)
Snowflakes (2007 Digital Remaster): Snowflakes
Song of the Volga Boatmen (2007 Digital Remaster): Song of the Volga Boatmen
Nut-Brown Maiden
The Little Bells
If I had a hammer
It's a long way to Tipperary (2007 Digital Remaster): It's a long way to Tipperary
God Save the Queen [Soviet Army Chorus version; sung in English] (2007 Digital Remaster): God Save the Queen [Soviet Army Chorus version; sung in English]

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