UKRAINE’S FINEST – and a way to support a worthy cause

Being the grandson of Ukrainian immigrants myself I can well understand Parnassus’s cover notice for their album ‘Great Musicians of Ukraine – Special Charity Album’ (PACD96087, £8.75) regarding “musicians largely forgotten outside Ukraine, and musicians very well-known – but not properly remembered as Ukrainian.” In fact, it wasn’t until after I’d made three trips to Russia, and the finer facts of Vladimir Putin’s intentions became clear, that I thought of myself as a maternal grandson of Ukrainians (Kyiv and Odessa) rather than a proud inheritor of Russian culture and all it entails, especially regarding music. But you live and learn, and this marvellous disc of historic recordings – please note that the income after costs will all go to the Ukrainian people’s charity: – celebrates one of the greatest musical traditions in existence. Alto are the distributors, and as the release date is May 5th you can always order in advance from

Contents-wise the 25-track programme closes with soprano Klavdya (Claudia) Novikova singing ‘I can’t refrain from laughing’ which sounds for all the world like it could be called ‘The Laughing Policewoman’. I don’t think I’ve laughed out loud more heartily in response to a song for years, and I didn’t understand a word of what she was singing about. Other vocal tracks include the area’s greatest bass after Chaliapin, Mark Reizen, singing the powerful aria ‘When I am weakened by the years’ from Taras Bulba by the Romantic Ukrainian composer, pianist, conductor and ethnomusicologist Mykola Lysenko (not to be confused with Trofim Lysenko whose ideas and practices contributed to the famines that killed millions of Soviet people). To open the programme Lysenko’s granddaughter Ryda plays a very Scriabinesque Intermezzo.

Other pianists include the Felix Blumenfeld-pupil Simon Barère who shows miraculous dexterity in Scriabin’s Etude for piano left hand while Benno Moiseiwitsch rows sombrely in time with Anton Rubinstein’s Barcarolle, sombrely that is until the arrival of a jaunty middle section. Prokofiev selections are played by the composer himself (Suggestion diabolique, a stunning performance), Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels. Cellist Gregor Piatigorsky demonstrates his characteristically vibrant tone in ‘Masques’ from Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet ballet and I’d never realised what a seductive player Boris Kroyt (later of the Budapest Quartet) was in his relative youth. We hear him in 1922 playing a Chopin Nocturne with piano. Other Ukrainian violinists represented are David Oistrakh and Nathan Milstein.

So much more to relish, many of the tracks vocal, the most memorable being a duet from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette featuring one of the last century’s most haunting voices, the tenor Ivan Kozlovsky heard in duet with the sweet-tone soprano Antonina Nezhdanova accompanied in 1939 by her husband the well-known composer-conductor-pianist Nikolai Golovanov.  

Other duets and solos focusing on more rarely heard singers are hardly less appealing but I must mention the disc’s single stereo item, a Ukrainian song (sung in Ukrainian) ‘Chernoe more moe’ featuring the father of the pianist Vladimir Feltsman, Oscar, touching and oh! so musical. And to close that classic Twenties’ musical depiction of whirring machines by Mossolov, Iron Foundry, built on pounding ostinati working in tandem to create the sound of a factory. The recording we hear – surely the work’s first – is a real thriller, very well transferred and featuring Orchestre Symphonique de Paris under Julius Ehrlich (of the State Opera, Leningrad).

So all in all a remarkable collection, essential listening for anyone interested in significant performances from the last century.

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