Kirill Kondrashin

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Kirill Kondrashin had a distinguished career. This release contains three East German radio broadcast recordings made from 1955 to 1960 with the Staatskapelle Dresden, all worthy new additions to his discography. None of these radio performances have been published before.

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KIRILL KONDRASHIN conducts Wagner, Ravel and Tchaikovsky

1. Wagner: Siegfried-Idyll, WWV 103 [19:27]
Recorded ∙ 09 October 1955 ∙ East Berlin ∙ Deutsche Staatsoper ∙ Rundfunk der DDR ∙ Live Recording

2-6. Ravel: Ma mère l’oye [15:37]
I. Pavane de la belle au bois dormant [01:30]
II. Petit poucet [03:12]
III. Laideronette, Impératrice des pagodes [03:16]
IV. Les entretiens de la Belle et de la Bête [04:13]
IV. Le jardin féerique [03:24]
Recorded ∙ 15 June 1960 ∙ Dresden ∙ Hygienemuseum Kongreßsaal ∙ Rundfunk der DDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording

7-10. Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48 [30:19]
I. Pezzo in forma di sonatina: Andante non troppo – Allegro moderato [09:05]
II. Valse: Moderato — Tempo di valse [03:55]
III. Élégie: Larghetto elegiaco [10:02]
IV. Finale (Tema russo): Andante — Allegro con spirito [07:16]
Recorded ∙ 17 June 1960 ∙ Dresden ∙ Hygienemuseum Kongreßsaal ∙ Rundfunk der DDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording

Staatskapelle Dresden
Kirill Kondrashin ∙ conductor

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Kirill Petrovich Kondrashin was born on 6 March 1914 in Moscow to a family of musicians. Kondrashin discussed his career in an interview for Toledo Blade in 1958. “My mother and father were both musicians. Before 1917, they played in Sergei Koussevitzky’s orchestra—the one that gave concerts up and down the Volga. After 1917, they worked in the Bolshoi Theater. They were also members —my father as a violist, my mother as a violinist—of an orchestra called the First Symphonic Ensemble, which they helped to establish. The group was composed of some of the best musicians in Moscow, and one of their chief distinctions was that they always played without a conductor. I had started playing the piano at 6, and so it was only natural that I attended all of the rehearsals and concerts of that conductorless orchestra. And here’s Irony for you because of that experience, my parents, who played in an orchestra without a conductor, spawned a conductor. Of course, I attended music school meanwhile and learned there things, that all musicians learn. But when I was 14 I made up to my mind to become a conductor and became an assistant conductor at the Moscow Children’s Theatre. At 17, I entered the Moscow State Conservatory to study conducting with Professor Boris Khaikin (1904-1978). Upon my graduation in 1936, I joined Professor Khaikin who had been appointed principal conductor of Leningrad’s Maliy Opera Theatre. At about the same time, I started to conduct symphony orchestras. In 1938 I was awarded of a diploma at the All-Union Conducting Competition in Moscow and made my debut concert with David Oistrakh and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. I continued doing that even when I joined as a staff conductor at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1943. However, in 1956 I had to resign from the Bolshoi because my schedule got too involved and I decided to dedicated myself to symphony concerts.”

Before the advent of Van Cliburn, the name of Kondrashin was unknown in America. This aspect of his career was given a considerable boost when he accompanied the winner of the 1958 International Tchaikovsky Competition, the pianist Van Cliburn, both in the USSR and because Cliburn insisted that the conductor follow him to the U.S. to lead the Symphony ot the Air in the various concerto marathons. Harold C. Schonberg wrote an article in High-Fidelity-1958-Sep “Once More with Kirill Kondrashin”: “Until Kondrashin stepped before the Symphony of the Air for his first rehearsal – the piece on the agenda was Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto with Van Cliburn as soloist—he had never conducted an orchestra outside the Iron Curtain. As a matter of tact he had never even been outside the Iron Curtain, He spoke no English, and he faced an orchestra of highly experienced players. He brought down his baton and the orchestra began the concerto. “Nyet.” Kondrashin said, pleasantly but firmly. For a long time he worked on opening measures, trying to get the precise kind of shaded attack he wanted. He did not have to speak English: music, which may or may not be an international language, had an international language — presto, pianissimo. allegro, ritardando mean the same in Rome, Moscow, New York and Buenos Aires. Kondrashin got along just fine. But two American words he did acquire immediately: “Once more.” As in most American orchestras, all the string players uses their own bowings, and this disturbed Kondrashin. I mean, really disturbed him. He felt it was anarchy. He made us adopt a uniform bow, and we all had to be in unison with the first chair. When it was explained to him that Stokowski had introduced variable bowing into American orchestras, and that Stokowski even then making a tour of Russia as a guest conductor, said that Stokowski might start a revolution in Russia. Later on, when Kondrashin bad picked up a few words of English, he stop the orchestra and say ‘Once more, please Letter L, like in Leopold Stokowski.’ He’s a pretty gregarious man and he seems to pick up languages very fast. By the end of our tour he was speaking English at all the rehearsals.” Members of the Symphony of the Air noted with interest that at the opening rehearsals everything seemed too loud for him. He was accustomed to a lower scale of dynamics, and he spent considerable time adjusting the orchestra’s volume to his taste. They also were impressed with his patience and unruffled sang-froid. They say that he never became flurried; that from midnight to 4:40 a.m. on the morning of May 30, when Cliburn was recording the Tchaikovsky concerto and nothing was going smoothly, everybody seemed frazzled but Kondrashin. According to him, there is little essential difference between recording sessions in Russia and America. Equipment is much the same, as he sees it, although he hastens to add that he is no expert on technical matters. Recording is, of course, a state-controlled enterprise in Russia, and a conductor there is in the enviable position of being able to command all the rehearsal time he thinks is necessary. “Otherwise,” Kondrashin said, a conductor wouldn’t agree to making records.”

From 1960 he was chief conductor of the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he made a great number of recordings. Among them the first complete Shostakovich cycle. His operatic experience had given Kondrashin all the qualities needed for exceptional performance as well as the ability to draw highly coloured and dramatic readings from orchestras. From 1960 he conducted without a baton, relying entirely on gesture, finger movements and eye contact to establish his musical requirements. He greatly improved the performing standards of the orchestra, extending its repertoire. After relinquishing his position in 1975 with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra he taught at the Moscow Conservatory and conducted abroad.

In 1976, Kondrashin was diagnosed with nervous spasms as a result of stress. Kondrashin also suffered from a heart condition—neurosis in the aorta—and prior to each tour, Kremlin doctors examined Kondrashin, and permission to travel abroad had to be certified by the Academy of Sciences. He left the Soviet Union in December 1978 while touring in the Netherlands for a two-week, six-concert guest engagement conducting the Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra in The Hague. Kondrashin, defected in the Netherlands. His wife, Nina, was with him but flew back to Moscow to be with their three grown children. She said her husband defected because he felt his artistic freedom was restricted here and because “a person’s interests change. He wanted to try something new.” He had not requested political asylum, but only wanted permission to stay in the Netherlands. Whereupon the Soviet regime immediately banned all his previous recordings. He eventually got his residence permit and the Concertgebouw Orchestra did everything in its power to provide the welcome guest with a more settled position. As from 1979 he was appointed permanent conductor, alongside the principal conductor Bernard Haitink. Being domiciled in the Netherlands enabled Kondrashin to travel freely all over Western Europe, giving concerts and making recordings, such as those with the Vienna Philharmonic in September 1979. In 1982, he was about to have a permanent orchestra of his own again: the symphony orchestra of the Bavarian Radio, which had appointed him successor to Rafael Kubelik. But before he could take over this new post, Kondrashin died in Amsterdam from a heart attack, on March 7 1981, after leading a performance of Mahler’s First Symphony at very short notice, substituting for a colleague who had been taken ill.

Kondrashin was one of few whose career encompassed Russia’s finest opera company, sharing it with symphonic music by presenting the first performances by his contemporaries: Sergey Prokofiev and Dmitry Shostakovich. Kondrashin was invited to collaborate with some of the 20th century’s greatest soloists: David Oistrakh, Leonid Kogan, Mstislav Rostropovich, Emil Gilels, and Sviatoslav Richter all from his homeland, but also with Yehudi Menuhin, Artur Rubinstein, Michelangeli, Van Cliburn, Martha Argerich, and Annie Fischer from the West.

Notes by Michael Waiblinger, © 2014

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Article number: MC 5001
UPC barcode: 791154054192
Recording dates: 1955-1960
Release date: March 2015
Total timing: 65:24

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Leon Levy collection
With special thanks to Dr. Reinhard Niemann
From the Original Masters ∙ © 2015 Meloclassic