Once considered in the same breath as Prokofiev and Shostakovich, Kabalevsky’s star has waned somewhat (the same fate has befallen both Myaskovsky and Khachaturian), both in his native Russia and farther West, where he is primarily remembered for his exuberant orchestral potboiler, the overture he wrote to an opera on a Romain Rolland story, Colas Breugnon. The opera won both a Lenin Prize and Rolland’s approval – no small feat – but has been completely forgotten. However, the offbeat rhythms that made the overture an instant hit also lend an upbeat, funky character to the opening movement of the Third Piano Sonata.
The new album by the Warsaw Philharmonic features music by eminent Polish composer Karol Szymanowski. His Litany to the Virgin Mary, Stabat Mater and Song of the Night were written between 1914 and 1933, which is considered to have been the most fruitful period in his creative life.
This disc is a perfect demonstration of what treasures might be waiting to be rediscovered among Charles Koechlin's huge and still drastically undervalued output. Both the Piano Quintet and the Third String Quartet were begun during the first world war, and the bulk of work on them was completed soon after hostilities ended; the Quartet was first performed in 1924, but Koechlin continued to revise the Quintet for another 10 years before it received its premiere.
Deep in the heart of the Cold War, there was once a miracle in Moscow – Texas-based classical pianist Van Cliburn, of whom no one had heard, conquered at the First Tchaikovsky Competition, an event set aside to showcase Soviet talent. Cliburn was warned by his own government not to go, given the tense political relationship between the United States and Soviet Union at the time, and once he arrived he was greeted as a party crasher, subject to hostile stares and animosity of the kind he had never dreamed of back in Texas. And it was Cliburn, at the end, which brought down the house, and held the award. Back in America, he was greeted with a ticker tape parade and was the subject of a best-selling biography by Abram Chasins, The Van Cliburn Story, copies of which continue to clog the shelves of American thrift stores five decades hence. Ultimately, though, Cliburn's celebrity lost its luster. Nerves, ultra-picky perfectionism, and mishandling by management led to his early retirement from the concert scene; his greatest latter-day achievement being the force behind the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, America's most prestigious such event.