FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 4, 2020
Today, the Moscow Symphony Orchestra (MSO) makes history with the release of a world premiere recording of rare works by Russian composer Alexander Mosolov. Now available on the Naxos label, the CD features Mosolov’s final work, Symphony No. 5, as well as his “lost” Concerto for Harp and Orchestra.
Though no longer a household name, Mosolov (1900–1973) was once dubbed the “experimental head” of Soviet avant-garde music. His 1927 work, Iron Foundry remains his best-known composition in the Western world. But to be experimental and boundary-pushing did not come without consequences, and by 1937 Mosolov had been expelled from the Union of Composers and arrested on accusations of anti-Soviet propaganda. He was granted release in 1938, though the experience altered his style significantly. Most of his post-Gulag works took influence from Central Asian folk music rather than Soviet politics, and were performed only once or twice.
Mosolov’s Concerto for Harp and Orchestra had its premiere in December 1939 at the Great Hall of Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Conservatory. By all accounts it should have become one of his signature works, but after an initial performance featuring famed Russian harpist Vera Dulova and maestro Aleksandr Gauk, it was soon forgotten. The manuscripts for his 5th Symphony, completed in 1965, met a similar fate and the work was never even performed in his lifetime.
Enter arts impresario Max Gutbrod. Over the past three years, the retired lawyer, music philanthropist and avid flute player has overseen a restoration and resurgence of these compositions, in collaboration with MSO music director Arthur Arnold.
“I came across the legendary Russian musicologist Ina Barsova who showed me some manuscripts of Mosolov,” Gutbrod recalls. “I immediately contacted Arnold, whose concerts with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra I have been admiring for years now, to see if we could bring these unperformed works to life. Together with Barsova I went to a play-through of the 5th Symphony that Arnold arranged with the MSO. When the music sounded I realized we had found valuable hidden gems.”
The MSO’s managing director, Marina Levine, agrees.
“I knew as soon as I heard the 5th Symphony that we had something unique in our hands,” she says. “How exciting that the Moscow Symphony Orchestra is part of this wonderful project.”
Before the 5th Symphony could be performed or recorded, however, Arnold had to create each part from the main score. All that could be found was a single conductor’s manuscript from now-defunct publisher, Kompositor Moscow. No one knows what happened to the original manuscript. Arnold had to piece the whole thing back together from photos collected quickly and clandestinely on his cell phone from a 1991 copy located within the Russian State Library. He recalls the the librarian looking away with a grin on her face, knowing that the composer would finally be getting the attention he deserved.
By the winter of 2018, the MSO was hard at work preparing for a concert and recording session in late January. For Arnold, it was the harp concerto that offered a particular thrill in this regard. Not only had it never been completely performed (Gauk decided to scrap the Gavotte in rehearsals before the original premiere in 1939) but he was able to share the groundbreaking event with a young musician connected to one of his other artistic projects – the Pacific Region International Summer Music Association (PRISMA) Festival & Academy in Powell River, British Columbia, Canada. Arnold co-founded the organization back in 2013 and continues to serve as its artistic director.
American harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman was the winner of PRISMA’s 2018 Concerto Competition, for which the prize at the time was the opportunity to perform with the MSO. In this particular case, the 24-year-old got a whole lot more than she bargained for.
“For me it was obvious to give Taylor that chance,” says Arnold. “She’s an excellent harpist, she’s proven herself at PRISMA. Why not give a young musician the opportunity to have such a career boost, especially since there are no traditions and no comparisons with this particular piece. This was someone who was so excited to play it and put everything she had into our interpretation. I think we made a great choice.”
Arnold and Gutbrod hope that the album, recorded at Mosfilm Studios, will result in future performances by other orchestras around the world. An upcoming biopic by filmmaker Matthew Mishory, entitled Mosolov’s Suitcase, is also part of their multi-faceted plan to bring the composer more recognition in the modern era.
“What Shostakovich was so afraid of, being deported at night, happened to Mosolov,” says Arnold. “How did the actions of the regime influence his music? Will we ever know, can we know? What is clear though is that the musical language of a Mosolov is his unique own and needs to be heard. I feel privileged to be able to discover and study manuscript of never-performed symphonies and other works, premiere and record them, so that his musical voice will be known to a broader public.”
Compozitor St. Petersburg is working closely together with Arnold to create an official edition of the harp concerto that will be available for rent in the near future. Arnold is currently in the process of digitalizing Mosolov’s 3rd and 4th symphonies and will premiere and record them for the Naxos label in 2021.
Alexander Mosolov was one of the foremost composers of the Russian avant-garde during the 1920s. His music was considered ‘a testament to the revolutionary spirit of his time’, but the legacy of his fame from that period now rests solely on his work The Iron Foundry. Soviet-era politics brought persecution and imprisonment, and these two recently rediscovered works were both composed after his ‘rehabilitation’. The Harp Concerto – a piece worthy of a place in the mainstream repertoire – is Mosolov’s ‘response’ to the concerto by his teacher Glière, and is heard here in its first complete performance. Coupled with the first recording of his final and colourful 5th Symphony, these are fascinating additions to the corpus of neglected Soviet-era works.
Dutch-born conductor Arthur Arnold leads captivating performances with prominent symphony orchestras around the world, and he has been music director of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra since 2012. Founded in 1989, the Moscow Symphony is now one of Russia’s leading orchestras. Amongst its numerous highly successful Naxos recordings can be found film music by Sir Malcolm Arnold (8.573366) described as ‘marvellous performances’ by ClassicsToday.com, and 17 volumes of orchestral works by Alexander Glazunov.
TAYLOR ANN FLESHMAN
Young harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman has among numerous awards been First Prize winner of the 2018 Pacific Region International Summer Music Academy’s concerto competition. After performing and recording the Mosolov Harp Concerto in Moscow for Naxos in January 2019 she was invited to the PRISMA Festival to perform the work as a guest soloist.