The material on this CD comes from two rare MGM records, originally recorded in the early to mid-1950s, and lovingly remastered for CD-R release by David Gideon of ReDiscovery. (How rare are they? eBay currently lists several dozen Fistoulari records, but these titles are not among them.) Fistoulari was born in Kiev in 1907. His father, Gregor Fistoulari, also was a conductor, and Gregor's studies with Rimsky-Korsakov link Anatole to most of the repertoire on this CD. Anatole's debut as a conductor came at the tender age of seven, when he led an orchestra in Kiev in a performance of Tchaikovsky's "Pathétique." He had a life-long connection with that composer. Several of his best-known recordings today are of Tchaikovsky's music, particularly the ballets.
Why ballets? Early on, Fistoulari established himself as a man of the theater, conducting Russian opera in Paris, and later on, Leonid Massine's Ballets Russes. In the 1950s, he was a guest conductor for London's Royal Ballet. Fistoulari could be counted upon to bring out the music's color. One of my favorite Fistoulari records (never transferred to CD, as far as I know), is of a suite from Reinhold Glière's ballet The Red Poppy, and the first set of Caucasian Sketches by Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov. (The latter is capped by the famous "Procession of the Sardar," but the entire four-movement suite is very attractive.) Even with the dated monaural sound, there's no shortage of splendor in Fistoulari's readings.
Much the same can be said of the present release. Fistoulari is in a relaxed mood here, and never is there a feeling that he is out simply to wow the listener, or to impose his ego upon the music. These honest, understated readings don't grab the listener by the lapels, but they convince him by degrees that the music is worth his time, and end by seducing him, albeit gently. The playing from the orchestras is top-notch throughout, and the monaural sound, while it dulls the impact of these scores a little, is not a liability.
The Snow Maiden and Ivan the Terrible are operas, the former based on a folk-tale, and the latter based (loosely) on Russian history. (Ivan the Terrible is more commonly known as The Maid of Pskov.) The former contains the moderately familiar "Dance of the Buffoons." Both suites immerse the listener in Russian atmosphere, with the gentle and moody taking precedence over the garish. Skazka is a free-standing orchestral work. It means "folk tale" or "fairy tale." Originally, it was titled "Baba Yaga," after the witch who also appears, with her hut on fowl's legs, in Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Rimsky-Korsakov's tale is more relaxed, however, as the actual process of story-telling seems to be a part of the work.
The Slippers also is an opera, although it is more familiar under the title Cherevichki. (To be more accurate, "cherevichki" are somewhere in between slippers and boots.) The other title is "Oxana's Caprices," and that is because the opera includes a saucy village maiden by that name who tells her swain Vakula that she won't marry him unless he goes, on Christmas Eve, to St. Petersburg on the Devil's back and asks the tsaritsa for her slippers/boots/what have you. (This he does, and there is a happy ending for Vakula and Oxana.) Incidentally, Rimsky-Korsakov also composed an opera based on this subject, but he called it Christmas Eve. Most of the suite recorded here contains music performed and danced to in the third act, which is set in the tsaritsa's palace. As with the selections by Rimsky-Korsakov also included on this disc, what the music lacks in memorable melodies it makes up for in color and atmosphere. Give it a chance and I think you will be charmed.
This CD-R is available only from www.rediscovery.us for $15, which includes shipping.
Copyright © 2007, Raymond Tuttle