GHCD 2391 – Anatole Fistoulari – Russian Concert Favourties

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Anatole Fistoulari (conductor)

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Gramophone – September 2012

Among the most desirable orchestral reissues of recent months is a Guild CD of Russian favourites as recorded by the Royal Philharmonic and Philharmonia orchestras in 1956-57 under the direction of Anatole Fistoulari, whose Tchaikovsky ballet music LPs are rightly prized as being among the finest ever made. Just why this is so can be gleaned from Fistoulari’s beautifully judged Philharmonia recording of the Waltz from Swan Lake.
Even better is Glinka’s Valse-Fantasie with the Royal Philharmonic, where Beecham’s great orchestra is captured in prime condition and Fistoulari points and phrases the music with the utmost precision. I love the delicate, often bright textures that he brings to the music – the lilting rhythms, too – and yet a feeling of tempered melancholy prevails. Nikolay Tcherepnin’s imaginative orchestration of Borodin’s Nocturne provides an interesting contrast with Sargent’s less interventionist strings-only version included on Guild’s Stokowski CD (see previous page) and there are nicely characterised extracts from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé.
Aside from the Glinka, the other highlights are by Glazunov: the First Concert Waltz (one of the composer’s most enduring compositions outside of his ballets) and, most especially, a performance of the tone-poem Stenka Razin that shapes and projects the music’s drama like no other since Constant Lambert’s pioneering 78s. Even Evgeni Svetlanov’s Russian recording isn’t as good and the closing statement of ‘The Volga Boat Song’, which is superbly prepared on this recording, is truly stirring.
The programme also includes Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Procession of the Nobles’ (Mlada) and the ‘Marche miniature’ from Tchaikovsky’s First Orchestral Suite. The transfers, presumably taken from clean stereo vinyl pressings, are consistently excellent.
From ‘Reply’ by Rob Cowan

Audiophile Audition – June 21, 2012

Émigré Fistoulari leads two crack British ensembles in music of his native Russia, popular favorites rendered with sonic audacity and verve.
I have had occasion to discuss Russian-born (and subsequent British national) conductor Anatole Fistoulari (1907-1995) prior, in regard to issues from the Opus Kura label. Born in Kiev to an established conductor, Anatole revealed his gifts early, leading a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony at the age of seven! After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Fistoulari found himself an émigré in Paris, consorting with the likes of Enesco, Koussevitzky, Prokofiev, and Chaliapin. He led the Ballets Russe in Paris, and so evolved a formidable array of works in that genre. During WW II, Fistoulari left France and fled to England, where in 1942 he married Anna Mahler, the composer’s only surviving daughter. In 1943 Fistoulari won an appointment as principal of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Curiously, after WW II Fistoulari’s recording career thrived despite his never again being offered a permanent post with a major orchestra.
What impresses most throughout this happy assemblage is the sterling intensity of the two orchestral ensembles, Beecham’s Royal Philharmonic (10 November 1958) in the Rimsky-Korsakov, Glinka, and Tchaikovsky (Marche Miniature) selections, and the remainder of the program with the splendid Philharmonia Orchestra (1 March 1956; 27 July 1956; and 14 March 1957). Of particular sonic quality, given its orchestration, comes the Nikolai Tcherepnin arrangement of the Borodin Notturno, otherwise played strictly as an expanded string lollipop. Here, woodwinds and horns fill out a voluptuous invocation of Kismet. The grand pieces, Rimsky-Korsakov’s pageant scene from Mlada and the grand Waltz from Swan Lake, prove to be excellent test-samples for anyone’s sound reproduction equipment. The Glazunov D Major Waltz achieves that lovely balance of melodic beauty and orchestral patina that adds a luster surpassing the Ansermet inscription with the Suisse Romande Orchestra.  The 1839 Glinka Valse-Fantasie already had a lively competitor in Nicolai Malko, but we can welcome another strong and colorful alternative.
Oddly, Fistoulari presents us only three of the five movements that constitute Prokofiev’s 1934 Lt. Kije Suite: Kije’s Wedding, Troika, and the Burial of Kije. Pungent and ironically inflated, the excerpts capture our attention, especially for the interior woodwind interplay that virtually defined the Philharmonia’s classic virtuosity. Generally, Fistoulari’s readings fall under the most literal of guises, to the point that one acerbic critic once labeled him “the non-conductor.” But the natural sympathy and scope he exerts in these readings belie his negative press for lack of personality. The Troika section of Lt. Kije alone warrants respect for its startling virtuosity and rhythmic precision. And Fistoulari’s rhythmic sense had garnered recognition from the first, having been cited as a factor in a critic’s appraisal from the teenaged boy’s St. Petersburg days. The final selection, Glazunov’s extended study on “The Volga Boat Song,” his 1885 Stenka Razin, in B Minor, imitates much of the Tchaikovsky formulas for symphonic poems, and it allows Fistoulari and Philharmonia considerable scope for their sonic powers. By the late pages, an heroic apotheosis has illumined the atmosphere, by sheer dint of the Philharmonia strings’ intensity, as supported by clarion winds and brass. If this constitutes “non-conducting,” then pour it on!
Gary Lemco