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Rachmaninov: Aleko Suite, Hovhaness: Ukiyo, Floating World / Kostelanetz

Release Date: 06/14/2011 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 88999  
Composer:  Sergei RachmaninovAlan HovhanessModest Mussorgsky
Performer:  Simon Estes
Conductor:  Andre Kostelanetz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Andre Kostelanetz Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

RACHMANINOFF Aleko: Suite 1. HOVHANESS Floating World—Ukiyo. MUSSORGSKY Khovanshchina: Introduction Andre Kostelanetz, cond; 1 Simon Estes, bs; “His O” SONY 88999 (34:11)

Andre Kostelanetz (1901–80) was involved with Rachmaninoff’s Read more music from his teenage years, when he was a rehearsal pianist and vocal coach at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg. Rachmaninoff, a generation older, was the leading composer of that era before he left Russia in 1917; his The Miserly Knight had its Mariinsky premiere in 1912, a few years before Kostelanetz’s arrival. When Kostelanetz also escaped from Russia, in 1922, he brought a knowledge and love of Rachmaninoff’s music with him to New York, where he was to lead many of his compatriot’s works, in their original form and in lush arrangements for popular tastes. Although written decades earlier, Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina had its Mariinsky premiere in 1911.

Rachmaninoff’s first opera, written at age 19, reflects many influences, Borodin and Mussorgsky perhaps even more than Tchaikovsky. Aleko has its exciting moments and its dreary ones; as is the case with Stravinsky’s Firebird , the suite captures the wheat while eliminating the chaff. Placing the overture last produces a dramatic comedown, as it dies away gently, but this is in keeping with many of the composer’s own gentle, tricky codas. Hovhaness was one of Kostelanetz’s favorite contemporary American composers; Floating World—Ukiyo , subtitled a ballade for orchestra, was written for and dedicated to the conductor. Its colorful, lush orchestration and exotic, pseudo-Japanese harmonies take Rachmaninoff a generation further. It is exciting music to hear once, and this performance is a stunner.

“Andre Kostelanetz and his Orchestra” was contracted for each recording session; neither the booklet nor Columbia recording logs for April 2 and 4, 1968, name the players, but they were probably members of the New York Philharmonic, as Kostelanetz led both Aleko (with Estes) and Floating World in Philharmonic Promenade Concerts that spring. Kostelanetz would often specify individuals he wanted, according to the music at hand—Mitch Miller on English horn was a favorite. The Aleko performance is wild and lush, as best suits Rachmaninoff, and the analog stereo recording is gorgeous but gimmicky, as string sections are electronically pumped up and tamped down across a wide soundstage. In one of his finest performances, Simon Estes sounds like a true Russian bass in a song that encompasses the entire bass-baritone range. Despite the pop-oriented sound, the results are wonderful. The recording of the Hovhanness is potent yet clean; the unconventional nature of the orchestration obscures any electronic manipulations. The Khovanshchina Prelude, another Promenade Concert specialty, is played with instrumental brilliance but without much character, missing the early-dawn mystery of the piece—the sun shines brightly from the opening measures. The 1967 stereo sound has every instrument up too close, leaving no room for subtlety.

This is a reissue of a Columbia stereo LP; the front cover is identical to that of the LP, including “MS 7126” instead of the CD number; its claim of “First Recordings” applied in 1968. A Sony representative told me that “Collectors don’t like bonus tracks; they want their CDs to be identical to the original release.” Which is a poor excuse for a 34-minute CD. Such timings were common for Kostelanetz’s pop albums, but not for classical ones. Most CD reissues of his pop records (on the Collectables label) put two LPs on a single CD and then add bonus tracks. Nevertheless, this CD is enthusiastically recommended for the Rachmaninoff.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Aleko: Suite by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Simon Estes (Bass)
Conductor:  Andre Kostelanetz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Andre Kostelanetz Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: Russia 
1. Intermezzo
2. Gypsy Dance
3. Cavatina
4. Girls' Dance
Floating World, Op. 209 "Ukiyo" by Alan Hovhaness
Conductor:  Andre Kostelanetz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Andre Kostelanetz Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1964; USA 
Khovanshchina: Act 1 Prelude "Dawn on the Moscow River" by Modest Mussorgsky
Conductor:  Andre Kostelanetz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Andre Kostelanetz Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1872-1880; Russia 

Featured Sound Samples

Aleko: Suite (Rachmaninov): Intermezzo
Aleko: Suite (Rachmaninov): Gypsy Dance
Khovanshchina (Mussorgsky): Act I: Prelude "Dawn on the Moscow River"

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