The Mosolov Project
Moscow Symphony Orchestra releases world premiere recording . CD is the first to include Alexander Mosolov’s 5th Symphony & Harp Concerto
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 recorded 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 harp concerto by his teacher Glière, and is heard here in its first complete performance. Coupled with the first recording of his final and colorful 5th Symphony, these are fascinating additions to the corpus of neglected Soviet-era works.
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 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 early release in 1938. After the experience Mosolov 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, if at all.
Mosolov’s Concerto for Harp and Orchestra had its premiere in December 1939 at the Great Hall of the Moscow 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. Only the cadenza lived on, and to this is day studied in the harp class of the Moscow Conservatory. Mosolov’s 5th Symphony, his last, was completed in 1965. It met a similar fate and the work was never even performed in his lifetime.
Enter entrepreneur and music philanthropist Max Gutbrod. Over the past three years, the retired lawyer, mentor to startups, and avid flute player has supported the 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. “As soon as I heard the 5th Symphony I knew that we had something unique in our hands,” she says. “How wonderful that the Moscow Symphony Orchestra is part of this exciting project.”
The only source for the 5th Symphony is a conductor’s score from now-defunct publisher, Kompositor Moscow and a reprint from Schott. No one knows what happened to the original manuscript. The only source for the harp concerto is the composer’s manuscript that Arnold discovered in the library of the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow. Orchestra parts were created to get the works ready for performance.
By the winter of 2018, Arnold and the MSO were preparing for a concert and recording session. “There were clear mistakes in the printed score of the 5th Symphony, but with no manuscript to reference, I could only compare notes with other parts of the score and with the manuscripts of his other symphonies. There are no traditions to fall back on. It’s exciting to discover a never performed work to that depth.” says Arnold.
The harp concerto offered a particular thrill in this regard. Not only had it never been completely performed (Gauk decided to scrap the third movement Gavotte for the premiere in 1939) but Arnold 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.
American harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman was the winner of PRISMA’s 2018 Concerto Competition. The first prize is the opportunity to perform in the MSO in Russia. The 24-year-old got a whole lot more than she bargained for.
“For me it was obvious to give Taylor the chance to be the soloist for the harp concerto,” says Arnold. “It’s so important to support young musicians. She’s an excellent harpist, has proven herself at PRISMA and was ready for the big leap. What a great opportunity for her career.”
Arnold and Gutbrod expect that the album, recorded at the Mosfilm Studios, will result in future performances of Mosolov’s music 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.
“What Shostakovich was so afraid of—being deported at night—happened to Mosolov,” says Arnold. “How did the actions of the regime impact his writing? He has a clear change in style after his imprisonment, but why? Natural development, political influence, a combination? We will probably never know. It is clear however that the musical language of Mosolov is his unique own and needs to be heard. I feel privileged to be able to discover and study manuscripts of these never-performed symphonies and it is an honor to premiere and record them, so that Mosolov’s musical voice doesn’t get lost and will be known to a broader public.”
Arnold recently discovered the manuscripts of Mosolov’s 3rd and 4th symphonies in the Russian State Library and is preparing them for performance with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and for recording on Naxos “World Premiere Recordings”.
Currently Arnold is working closely together with music publisher Kompozitor St. Petersburg to create an official edition of the Concerto for Harp and Orchestra that will be available for performance in the near future.
Alexander Mosolov (1900-1973) was tijdgenoot van Sjostakovitsj. Ook hij kampte (te modern) met censuur van het Sovjet-regime. Het enige werk van Mosolov dat hier soms te beluisteren is, is de illustratief beukerige ‘machinemuziek’ De IJzergieterij (1927). Na twee seizoenen in de Goelag (het zouden eerst 8 jaar zijn) vond Mosolov zijn idioom noodgedwongen opnieuw uit. Geen ‘pervers’ avant-gardisme meer, maar muziek zoals het Harpconcert (1937): sprookjesachtig, een soort 20ste-eeuws antwoord op Rimski-Korsakov, rijk aan oriëntaalse invloeden. Klinkende harpvirtuositeit – heel veel meer dan alleen lieflijk – en stampend martiale passages maken dit tot een concert dat je met plezier meermaals beluistert. De herontdekking van het harpconcert (kom op orkesten, programmeer dit straks eens als opmaat tot een symfonie van Sjostakovitsj!) en Mosolovs latere Vijfde symfonie danken we aan de inzet van de Nederlandse dirigent Arthur Arnold en het Moscow Symphony Orchestra – waarvan hij chef-dirigent is. Goed nieuws: er komen dankzij en met dezelfde uitvoerenden nog meer aan de vergetelheid ontrukte Mosolov-symfonieën (nrs. 3 en 4) aan.
The performance from the Moscow Symphony, with its Dutch-born, conductor, Arthur Arnold, gives full vent to those harsh elements in the opening movement leading to the peaceful attitudes of the in his slow central Adagio. For the finale the mood is a compendium of all that has gone before, the ‘trionfale’ creating a big and noisy conclusion. With the multi-award winning young American harpist, Taylor Ann Fleshman, the concerto is a pleasant score, using fast fingers it portrays an instrument of sparkling charm and beauty, the final Toccata suitably brilliant and jolly. Very good wide dynamic range sound.
The Harp Concerto—a piece worthy of a place in the mainstream repertoire—is Mosolov’s ‘response’ to the 1938 concerto by his teacher Glière, and is heard here in its first complete performance. By 1939, when he wrote it, his style had been irreversibly “corrected” by his experiences in a labor camp and it is an example of Mosolov’s obediently pliant style of composition from this period. Three of its movements were first performed in 1939 at the Moscow Conservatoire with Vera Dulova as the soloist, but the manuscript score and parts were subsequently consigned to oblivion before being rediscovered and restored for performance by the conductor of this recording, Arthur Arnold. In the first half of the 1960s, Mosolov largely busied himself in writing uplifting patriotic potboilers with titles such as Hello, New Harvest and Glory to Moscow, but he also managed to produce a handful of more enduring works for his desk drawer. These include the fifth symphony, which was never performed in his lifetime and remained unpublished until 1991. Its colorful, if uncontroversial, scoring makes it an enjoyably fascinating addition to the corpus of neglected Soviet-era symphonies now seeing the light of day for the first time. These are fascinating additions to the corpus of neglected Soviet-era works.
Harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman’s dynamic and expressive touches enhance the instrument’s sound from start to finish, be it melancholic or glittering. As far as the Symphony No. 5 is concerned, the central slow movement is the most captivating. It’s somewhat mechanical pulse and lugubrious overtones expose facets reminiscent of the younger composer. The members of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and conductor Arthur Arnold well capture this work’s darkly resonating core.
The performance of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra is excellent under Arthur Arnold, a Dutch conductor who lives in Canada and the Netherlands and is chief conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.
There are presumably a great many other pieces by Mosolov which remain either unperformed or totally neglected since their first performances, and the example of the Harp Concerto here does demonstrate that some of them at any rate do not deserve their total disappearance. It is indeed solely thanks to the enterprise of conductors such as Arthur Arnold and the exploratory curiosity of the Naxos label that we are given the opportunity to discover such examples as these. I could not find it in myself to lend much support to a live revival of this particular Mosolov symphony (there are others which might possess greater character), but I would go some way to hear a performance of the Harp Concerto, and I am delighted to be afforded the opportunity to listen to it occasionally on this disc.
The Moscow Symphony Orchestra, led with heroic gesture by Arthur Arnold, does justice to this dramatic score. This recording opens doors to other unknown works by Mosolov.
Still with Russian composers, but this time one who is known for a single piece of music—the cataclysmic (and very brief) ‘Iron Foundry’. This Moscow disc from Naxos is illuminating, demonstrating that the composer was more than a one-hit wonder, his Fifth Symphony being a work of genuine substance and invention. It is given a serviceable performance here…
The long-suffering Alexander Mosolov deserves rehabilitation, and these fine performances and sound make a good case. If you like this symphony, by all means try the (unnumbered) Symphony in E (1944), a darker work, more Russian and more romantic. Performances and sound are first rate.
…The work is attractively written for the soloist, and far more contrasted in tone and atmosphere than the symphony. It’s an ambitious piece: four movements lasting thirty-seven minutes, but as played here by soloist Taylor Ann Fleshman, the time passes by pleasantly enough. Truth to tell, both works sound very good as performed by the Moscow Symphony under Arthur Arnold, and for anyone curious about the minor highways and byways of Soviet-era music, this disc will likely prove a mandatory acquisition.
The Concerto…highlights the excellent harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman. Arthur Arnold’s generous playing and the richness of his orchestra’s sound do perfect justice to this cinematic music.
Harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman’s technique and phrasing are outstanding in this performance. Her captivating interpretation leaves no doubt that this work deserves a lasting place in the harp concerto repertoire. It is always nice to encounter an effort to keep lesser-known composers’ music alive—Arnold and the Moscow Symphony certainly make a strong case for increased future performances of Mosolov’s music.