NABOKV-L post 0011190, Thu, 10 Mar 2005 10:34:51 -0800

Furtwangler and Red Army General Nikolay Nabokov
EDNOTE. A curiosity and doubtless a coincidence. In any case, the Nikolay Nabokov in the story is NOT to be confused with Vladimir Nabokov's emigre cousin, composer and cultural entrepreneur Nikolay Nabokov -- author of the charming memoir _Bagazh_ in which he mentions his famous cousin Vladimir.

... quality allowing stereophonic sound . Special thanks need to be rendered to
the Red Army commander Nikolay Nabokov . The cultured army ...

Furtwängler in Russia

Before and after the October Revolution, Russia proved a munificent host
to the world’s finest musicians, one fugitive, however, from the rigours
of the Russian concert platform was Wilhelm Furtwängler. This major absence
was not for political conscience, but more mundane causes; the authorities
could never match his demands. One engagement set for the Berlin maestro
was the celebratory concert in Leningrad’s Philharmonic Hall to greet
the arrival of Hitler’s army, abandoned only by the Nazis’ failure to
capture the city. Russian music lovers, therefore, had to appraise the
mastery of the Teutonic maestro in the most incongruous of circumstances.

* * * * * *

In April 1945 as the forces of Marshals Zhukov and Rokossovsky plotted to
make the final assault upon the Berlin citadel, special units of highly
trained NKVD men and women were despatched to secure the Third Reich’s
central buildings, as Dr Goebbels had declared ‘I do not wish that they
should be used one day by the Bolshevists.’ In several instances, men
were already in place to ensure that important archives and materials
were not destroyed. Included in the Soviet’s design was Reichsrundfunk
on Masurenallee. German radio possessed a revolutionary type of recording
equipment: the Magnetophon permitted real sound quality allowing
stereophonic sound. Special thanks need to be rendered to the Red Army
commander Nikolay Nabokov. The cultured army officer so highly regarded
Furtwängler that he issued an invitation to be restored as director of
the Staatsoper. Soviet musicologists had long admired Furtwängler for
his nobility and humanity in artistic matters. In the thirties, his
records were imported from the Reich’s efficient exporting agencies.

It was thus a bizarre prize for Soviet music-lovers that the tapes of
broadcasts by Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic arrived at
Soviet Radio. The German maestro’s concerts were broadcast all over
Europe, recorded on magnetic tape granting a superior fidelity not
normally obtainable. The ground-breaking machines gave a true
representation of a live concert, capturing the atmosphere of a packed
concert using three microphones. Never before had such advanced techniques
been used to recreate a concert. Believing the recording process fickle;
only upon the sensation of new tape recordings and with rivals such as
Karajan did Furtwängler change his ambivalence and Greater Germany Radio
broadcasts became a stable part of his work from 1941, almost a bargaining
tool to further his prevalence in the Third Reich. The philosophical depth
of his music-making influenced an entire generation. Such was their
popularity among music-lovers.

In the immediate post-war years, the tapes were broadcast on Moscow Radio.
Certainly, the recordings had a profound impact on musicians in the Soviet
Union. Some indeed changed their perception of music listening to Furtwängler.
This did not, however, include Yevgeny Mravinsky, who found the Berlin
maestro refreshing but who had long since found his own secret to interpretation.
The inspiration fell upon those of the Moscow school; Svetlanov, Kondrashin,
Rozhdestvensky, and others including the young David Oistrakh. The Magnetophon
became the most trustworthy medium in reproducing concerts and studio
recordings; its fidelity to musical sound far exceeding any rivals.
The tape machines were used at a series of concerts at the Large Hall of the
Moscow Conservatoire and later for recordings at Radio House. Significant
products of the German technology were Shostakovich’s Eighth and Prokofiev’s
Sixth Symphonies, which were recorded shortly after their performances on

The particular history to the release by Melodiya of the Furtwängler archive
was due to a decision by the Ministry of Culture to serialise releases of
historical recordings against the new series of Russian and Soviet symphonic
classics and of Western classics. Radio archives were mined to disseminate
recordings of visiting Western orchestras and musicians under the heading
Leading Interpreters of World Music. It was normal practise that live
concerts were taped at the Conservatoire and distributed through Melodiya to
all the fifteen republics with both the Conservatoire and Radio to hold their
own masters. Only Melodiya cleaned and restored tapes for future use and the
archive tapes lay untouched for many years, thus allowing their sound qualities
to deteriorate.

The new Melodiya firm was based on Moscow Aprelevka factory which had its
own distinct label; a torch with three letters combined
A-Z-G (Aprelevka Record Plant). The Leningrad Akkord had a quite distinct
logo; a man with two trumpets held aloft, label colours ranging from light
pink to light blue; and the cherry red of MK - Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga - with
a book unravelling against a globe of the world. With no commercial market,
records had low prices permitting the huge demand of a discerning public.
Recordings by Toscanini or Furtwängler would disappear within hours as would
books by Tolstoy or Pushkin. Regardless of attractive designs of the Kremlin
or the Moscow River the record-sleeves betrayed little hint of its content.
Collectors could consult a list of records on sale within the store and would
vie to enquire the poor underpaid shop assistants about new records. One
would queue at a cash-desk and following payment proffer the receipt at
the counter. Upon arrival home the avid collector would discover that the
standards of production had vastly improved. The Melodiya pressings were
cleaner and excellently contrived with no difficulty on the rim or central
play-out. The Aprelevka product was truer in sound and consistency than those
made elsewhere although often LPs from Leningrad or Tallinn could match this
standard. Where the Leningrad Akkord could score over their Moscow partners
was in the added beauty of the record produced and the artistic selection
offered to customers. In the sixties, talented technicians and engineers such
as Gerhard Tsess and Alexander Grosmann emerged who could now make recordings
at a very high rank. Soon the Ministry of Culture administered record
production through its All-Union Company – Melodiya employing standard logo
and unified enterprise owning several hundred shops and its own journal for
collectors. Melodiya brought a more informative sleeve jacket supplying a
concise biography of the conductor with a brief outline of the music itself,
frequently the cover would portray a photograph or sketch of the conductor, each
issue diverged from each other depending on the centre of production, factories
in Tbilisi or Yerevan could manufacture highly attractive covers of such recordings.

The two men who masterminded the Furtwängler project were Vadim Smirnov and
Piotr Grünberg who restored the twenty-year old master tapes allowing a new life.
Their work was a labour of love employing the latest techniques to ensure the
accurate sound quality attaining little or no interference. The frequency level
was at a different setting from that used at Moscow Radio thus achieving an
improved quality. The first issue was Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on D05800/1
in 1959, followed by Beethoven’s Third on D06443/4 in 1960 and Fourth on D09083/4
in 1961. Subsequent releases featured collaborations with Gieseking and Röhn and
symphonies by Brahms and Schubert. The pressings were initially made in runs of
10,000 to 20,000 LPs and sometimes duplicated later in the Union Republics. One
blemish in the releases by Melodiya was one of pieces by Gluck, D’Albert and
Glazounov from the war years (D046683/4). The D’Albert and Glazounov were fakes
as on 2 February 1945 the conductor did not give a concert in Vienna. In the
late-seventies, a superior Moscow Test Factory - Gramzapis opened amplifying the
values of pressings at Aprelevka, distinguished by their black labels with silver
letters. A highlight was the album devoted to Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony and
Schumann’s Cello Concerto on M10-42555/8 from a 1942 concert. The gate-fold
album gave an enlightened account of the conductor whilst crediting the tapes
being from the archives of the Berlin Philharmonic. This was issued in 1980 in a
run of 18,854 copies. No announcement was made as to the provenance of the tapes
and it was not until Gorbachyov’s Perestroika that the tapes were returned to
Germany for issue on the new medium of compact disk, albeit using the unrestored
materials. Regrettably, the original tapes had inevitably aged against the restored
tapes in Melodiya’s archive. There remain many more tapes of other broadcasts of
Bruckner, Strauss and contemporary composers, not all are complete and some have
disappeared but to this day there remain hidden treasures in the archives of Russian
State Radio.

There was one factor above all which drew Russian audiences and that was the visceral
electricity to be found listening to these live recordings; whilst Furtwängler’s
musicians were playing to packed halls during a break in RAF bombing raids, the music
gave the Berlin music-lovers that sanctuary in their lives that no one else could in
this perilous time of war. This feeling as if this was the last time the Philharmonic
would be playing allowed concerts that particular quality of the present-day and is
captured on tape for everyone to hear.

The Melodiya recordings bring to light performances of the war-years which express an
intensity and grim calamity often absent from post-war recordings by the conductor.
The reality was that in the face of his concessions off the platform, Furtwängler
offered his musical public – thousands of educated Berliners – the crème de-la crème
of cultural life – refuge from the desperate RAF bombings, a spiritual sanctuary
during the most terrible war in humankind. Furtwängler gave his audiences, albeit
for a few short hours, a respite and solace from the suffering outside the walls of
the Philharmonie. Here the affinity with another world – far distant from that
period – permits Furtwängler’s genius to be considered justly noble.

Gregor Tassie