Notes and Editorial Reviews
Lopatnikoff had earned a certain cachet by the early 1930s, having his First Symphony conducted by Bruno Walter, no less, and being played by the Berlin Philharmonic. The Estonian-born composer was then forced to move to London where he lived for about seven years, before emigrating to America. There he pursued an academic, teaching career in tandem with his compositional life.
The 1941 Violin Concerto was premiered by Richard Burgin with the Boston Symphony under Koussevitzky. Burgin was the esteemed concertmaster of the orchestra and was a laudable exponent – does this premiere exist somewhere? In Pierian’s disc the soloist is the redoubtable and long-lived Joseph Fuchs with the National Orchestral Association
directed by the intrepid Leon Barzin, a broadcast survival that was made in 1945.
The Concerto is a bold, fulsome offering in three movements and relatively compact at twenty-two minutes. It opens in busy fashion, as if urgently keen to get on with things, and is full of terse, invigorating rhythmic thrust. It’s interesting to consider the influences. Lopatnikoff was living in London when Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto received its British premiere, courtesy of Robert Soetens – who’d also given the world premiere (the broadcast recording of the Soetens/Wood UK premiere has now been issued by the BBC Music Magazine). He was in America when the Walton (end of 1939) and Barber (official premiere in February 1941 but performed earlier) were premiered and that’s the kind of thing to expect, with Prokofiev as the stronger contender. There’s a fine cadenza at the end of the first movement of the Lopatnikoff, and especially good is the series of very lyric-romantic vaults that the violin launches in the expressive slow movement. Here Fuchs’ vibrato widens noticeably. The finale is snappy, lively with incipient tension. A big military march threatens but there is also, interestingly, some Tchaikovskian wind figuration. The final furlong is marked by scampering but ultimately unsatisfying drama.
The recording clearly needed some remedial work but it’s still pretty harsh and razory, though listenable certainly. Fuch’s tonal qualities don’t emerge optimally but we can make out enough to admire his thrusting virtuoso playing.
The Third Symphony was composed over a decade later. It’s couched in the ‘School of Grit’ – busy, taut, with scattered and uneasy lyric moments surrounded by Sturm und Drang. The second movement continues the brittle bustle of the first but much lighter and less insistent in tone – there’s a military type bugle call along the way – and the slow movement is austere and edgily lyrical. A sense of glowering brusqueness haunts the finale with a ghost march embedded along the way. It’s a highly competent work – single minded, powerful, not especially distinctive.
John Barnett is the conductor and the 1960 sound is naturally a considerable improvement on the sonics for the concerto. This disc consists of fruitful pickings for those who admire the mid-century output of the Estonian émigré.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
The Russian-born but German-trained Nikolai Lopatnikoff (1903–1976) was a genuine and full-blooded cosmopolitan, both biographically and stylistically. A member of that second wave of illustrious émigrés who sought asylum on our shores from the European time of troubles before and during World War II, he was championed early on by Koussevitzky and Steinberg and spent many distinguished years on the faculty of the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, where his music was frequently showcased. This Pierian release of historical performances of two of his major scores serves to refocus attention on a serious-minded craftsman who has been shamefully overlooked since his death.
The Violin Concerto of 1941 is a product of the assertive, self-confident brand of international modernism Lopatnikoff had perfected over the previous decade or so. Its austerely neo-Classical framework is filled with the type of contrapuntal vigor and wrong-note lyricism that grew out of the between-the-wars careers of Stravinsky and Hindemith, somewhat parallel to our own Walter Piston but with a much more pronounced Slavic strain. For example, the concerto’s slyly festive finale comes across as a disheveled gloss on Pétroushka, but without the exceptional color and theatricality of the original, of course, because Lopatnikoff works hard to achieve a tone of hard-edged detachment, which verges on the implacable.
This quality is especially dominant in the Third Symphony of 1953–54. (The fact that a dozen years separate the concerto’s op. 26 from this symphony’s op. 35 underlines Lopatnikoff’s painstakingly methodical approach to his work.) This half-hour symphony in the regulation four movements is an even more emphatically aggressive statement than the concerto: its Allegro risoluto first movement plunges the listener into a militant imbroglio that so vividly evokes a mechanistic assembly-line world that one could think this is the composer’s “war” symphony. Although its three Allegro movements end surprisingly with a softly dying fall and the lamentational Andante third movement provides some respite, most of this music is driven by a rhythmic relentlessness punctuated by snare drum alarums and an aura of dissonant despair that is only tentatively dissolved after a climax of timpani-led tumult in the finale.
Both performances deliver the snap of “live” immediacy. The first-class violinist Joseph Fuchs negotiates the jagged intricacies of the concerto with his characteristic aplomb, and the legendary Leon Barzin (who passed away in his nineties in Paris just a few years ago) keeps his players on their toes throughout. With the more fiendishly difficult Third Symphony, the NOA sounds even more commanding in a brighter acoustic under John Barnett.
These broadcast recordings drawn from the NOA archives constitute volume 2 of an ongoing project to recover some important and valuable repertoire. (The first release in the series paired Benjamin Lees’s electrifying First Piano Concerto with an appealingly Gershwinesque concerto by the Hollywood composer Ernest Gold.) With financial assistance from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, this restoration effort, spearheaded by Karl F. Miller of the University of Texas at Austin, will be issuing works—many of them first recordings—from the orchestra’s heyday in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, which have unfortunately been forgotten but very much deserve to be preserved and better known.
This Lopatnikoff program is certain to be one of the most significant for anyone with more than a passing interest in the rich history of 20th-century music. An outstanding job.
Paul A. Snook, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin, Op. 26 by Nikolai Lopatnikoff
Joseph Fuchs (Violin)
National Orchestral Association
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1941; USA
Date of Recording: 03/12/1945
Symphony no 3, Op. 35 by Nikolai Lopatnikoff
National Orchestral Association
Period: 20th Century
Date of Recording: 01/26/1960
Notes: Composition written: USA (1953 - 1954).
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