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The Russian Avant Garde
Selection and commentary by Andrew James Horton

CER's articles on Russian avant-garde music and an extensive discography of CDs.

Most CDs are available through both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Since the two suppliers maintain their stocks independently, some CDs are only available through one of them.


The Experiment Continues
David Fanning (Vol 2, No 21, 2000)

A recent conference on the under-researched topic of Russian avant-garde music was cause for celebration.

Zaum and Sun
Isobel Hunter (Vol 1, No 3, 1999)

The "first Futurist opera" revisited.

The St Petersburg Legacy
Andrew James Horton (Vol 1, No 2, 1999)

A portrait of a city through its poetry and music.

The Forgotten Avant Garde
Andrew James Horton (Vol 1, No 1, 1999)

Russia's vibrant experimental music scene of the 1920s was cruelly deprived of widespread fame by Stalin


  • Russian Futurism
    various, Arte Nova

    Vol 1, Mosolov piano music. 55 mins.

    (from Amazon.com)

    Vol 2 (2CDs), Avant garde Jewish composers. 146 mins.

    (from Amazon.com), (from Amazon.co.uk)

    Vol 3 (2CDs), Roslavets, Mosolov, Gnessin, Knipper. 123 mins.

    (from Amazon.com), (from Amazon.co.uk)
    Quality suffers slightly in this compilation of world premieres, some important and interesting composers are completely ignored and some of the pieces are rather dry, but it is still incredible value, with the 5 CDs together selling at not too much more than the price of a single CD. Indispensable as a cheap first foray into the Soviet avant garde. Total 225 mins. Budget.

  • Russian Music from the 1920s
    Various, BMG (Musica Non Grata), 74321 49955 2
    (from Amazon.com), (from Amazon.co.uk)
    The title is a misnomer and half the works weren't composed in the 20s. An erratic selection but worth it for Popov's Chamber Symphony (the best recording around) and Zhivotov's sole experimental work, his Fragments for Nonet. 77 mins. Budget.
  • Rediscovering the Russian Avant Garde 1912-1925
    Sarah Rothenberg (piano), GM, 2040
    (from Amazon.com)
    Includes Roslavets's Sonata No. 5, Prelude and Three Compositions, two Mosolov sonatas and a single work by Lourie - his Quatre Poemes. 66 mins. Full price.
  • Knipper, Khrennikov, Karayev, et al
    (from Amazon.com)
    The trouble with Amazon (although they are still the best on-line distributor) is every now and then they have CDs on sale with almost no information about them. Unfortunately, this intriguing collection of violin music by lesser-known composers who fought on both sides of the modernism vs Socialist Realism battle is one such case. Anyone out there feeling brave?
  • Glière and Mosolov Cello Concertos
    Sudzilovsky / Skripka
    (from Amazon.com), (from Amazon.co.uk)
    Two Russian cello concertos. Gliere was a contemporary of Mosolov, but his politics were rather more revolutionary than his music. Full price.
  • Out of Russia
    Gidon Kremer et al, Wea / Atlantic / Teldec, 98440
    (from Amazon.com), (from Amazon.co.uk)
    A truly bizarre compilation with works by daring twenieth-century composers Lourie, Stravinsky and Schnittke on the one hand and works by Tchaikovsky on the other. Full price.

  • Symphony 3 / Arcana / Zavod
    (from Amazon.com), (from Amazon.co.uk)
    Works by Prokofiev, Varese (another Futurist of sorts) and Mosolov respectively. Zavod (more commonly known to Anglophone listeners as The Foundry) became famous for its attempts to recreate factory sounds with an orchestra.
  • Piano Trios: Tailleferre / Milhaud / Roslavets / Shostakovich
    Clementi Trio, Largo, 56618
    (from Amazon.com)
    Chamber music was Roslavets's forte and here he is true to his admiration for Scriabin. Although not explicitly listed, I'm sure this collection also contains Shostakovich's First Piano Trio, the less inspiring of his two. Still a nice coupling of two Russian and two French composers, the latter being no less innovative but somewhat more cheerfully disposed than the former two. Full price.
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    Alexandr Krein

  • Krein: ...after Scriabin
    Lawrence + Powell et al, Largo, 5136
    (from Amazon.com), (from Amazon.co.uk)
    Includes his First Symphony, Jewish Sketches and Piano Sonata No 5. Full price.

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    Arthur Lourié

  • Three String Quartets
    Utrecht String Quartet, ASV, CD DCA 1020
    (from Amazon.com), (from Amazon.co.uk)
    CDs of works by Lourie are few and far between. This selection shows why this is such a crime. A modern recording of passionate and prophetic works. 62 mins. Full price.
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    Alexandr Mosolov

  • Piano Sonatas Nos 3&5/Two Nocturnes
    Herbert Henck, ECM, 4494602
    (from Amazon.co.uk)
    Sonatas 3 and 5 and Two Nocturnes. An expensive alternative to the Russian Futurism 5-CD set (which contains an entire disc of Mosolov piano music). However, many will consider it worth it for the vastly superior presentation, faultless production and Henck's commended performance of these passionate and despairing pieces. 51 mins. Full price.
  • Piano Sonatas 1-5
    Marks Hinterhausser, Col legno, WWE 1CD
    (from Amazon.com)

    Mosolov's complete sonatas on one CD. A fuller, more logical program than Henck's or the Russian Futurism set, but it can't beat the former on quality or the latter on price. Full price.

  • String Quartet "On Patriotic Themes of 1812" etc
    Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble, Triton, 17004
    (from Amazon.com)
    Also includes his hilarious settings of Four Newspaper Announcements.
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    Gavriil Popov

  • Symphonies 1 + 2
    Moscow State Symphony Orch / Provatorov, Olympia, OCD 576
    (from Amazon.com), (from Amazon.co.uk)
    Popov's revolutionary First symphony (which inspired Shostakovich) coupled with his blander Second. 78 mins. Full price.
  • Symphony No 5 + Symphonic Suite No 1
    USSR State Symphony Orch., Olympia, OCD 998
    (from Amazon.com), (from Amazon.co.uk)
    Popov struggling against Socialist Realism. The Symphonic Suite is taken from the film Komsomol is the Chief of Electrification which gives you some idea of the sort of music involved here. For Popov fans only. 62 mins. Full price.
  • Symphony No 6 + Chamber Symphony Op 2
    USSR Radio Symphony Orch, Olympia, OCD 588
    (from Amazon.com), (from Amazon.co.uk)
    Highly recommended. A lovely coupling of two great works: Popov's drunken and subversive take on Lenin's centenary celebrations and his youthful masterpiece are both worthy additions to any collection. 70 mins. Full price.
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    Nikolai Roslavets

  • Roslavets Piano Music
    Marc-Andre Hamelin, Hyperion, CDA 66926
    (from Amazon.com), (from Amazon.co.uk)
    Roslavets's piano music is less accessible than that of Mosolov but this CD has received high praise for the performance of Hamelin. "Variable but exotic and intriguing music, immaculately played" was how Classic CD chose to describe it. 70 mins. Full price.
  • Violin Sonatas
    Lubotsky (violin) + Bochkovskaya (piano), Olympia, OCD 558
    (from Amazon.com)
    Lubotsky has revived Roslavets's surviving violin sonatas (Nos 1, 2, 4 + 6) for this, their world-premiere recording. 70 mins. Full price.
  • 24 Preludes
    Lubotsky (violin) + Bochkovskaya (piano), Olympia, OCD 559
    (from Amazon.com), (from Amazon.co.uk)
    Another Lubotsky revival. Full price.
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    Alexandr Scriabin

    There are hundreds of CDs of music by Scriabin. However, most of them are the dainty little encore pieces which characterise his early period. Far more interesting from the point of view of the Soviet avant garde are the mystical pieces of his later years, which are less recorded.

  • Mystic Works for Piano
    Jean-Pierre Armengaud, Studio SM, D2615
    (from Amazon.com)
    Scriabin wobbling precariously between madness and genius. 70 mins. Full price.
  • Piano Sonatas
    Vladimir Ashkenazy, Decca, 452 961-2
    (from Amazon.com)
    For those who want the full story, the ten complete sonatas on this double CD span the complete range of Scriabin's music. 152 mins. Budget.
  • Symphony No 3 + Le Poeme de l'extase
    Moscow Symphony Orch., Naxos, 8.553582
    (from Amazon.com))
    Scriabin's orchestral music is viewed by purists in much the same way that Debussy's is - fine, well-written works but not a scratch on what he can do with a piano. Still, Le Poeme de l'extase is an important and influential work in his oeuvre. Budget.
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    Dmitri Shostakovich

    Shostakovich is probably the most recorded composer of the twentieth century and this is not the place for a complete survey of his works. Here are two CDs which contain his two most radical symphonies - his Second and Fourth.

  • Shostakovich: Symphonies 2 + 10
    Decca, 425064
    (from Amazon.com)
    The former is revolutionary in both senses of the term, being a eurphoric symphonic dedication to the October revolution, and the latter is his bleak representation of the Stalin years. Mid-price.
  • Symphony No 4
    Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orch, Naxos, 8.550625
    (from Amazon.com)
    A vast apocalyptic jazz symphony inspired by Gavriil Popov's First Symphony. Budget.
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    Galina Ustvolskaya

  • Galina Ustvolskaya
    Various, BMG (Musica Non Grata)
    (from Amazon.com)
    Another well-presented selection from BMG's series of "Musica Non Grata"; dug out from the Melodiya archives. Includes her Piano Concerto, Octet, Piano Sonata No 3 and the Grand Duet for Cello and Piano. Budget.

  • Galina Ustvolskaya
    The Barton Workshop, Etcetera, KTC 1170
    (from Amazon.com), (from Amazon.co.uk)
    With her 9-minute Fourth Symphony, Piano Sonata No 5, Clarinet Trio and the Grand Duet, this is another varied selection. Unfortunately, the Clarinet Trio - which was quoted twice by her teacher and suspected lover, Shostakovich, in his works - is rushed. 58 mins. Full price.
  • Trio, Sonata No 5, Duet (for violin and piano)
    Various, Hat Hut, HatART CD 6170
    (from Amazon.com), (from Amazon.co.uk)
    This one goes the opposite direction on the Trio, prolonging it. This ensemble now works closely with the composer. Whilst the Trio has its Shostakovich connections, the Sonata is notable for its interesting marking "fffff".
  • Piano Sonatas and Preludes
    Ivan Sokolov, Triton, 17014
    (from Amazon.com), (from Amazon.co.uk)
    A two-CD budget set, but don't be deceived - the second CD is only 18 minutes long. Total: 85 mins. Budget.
  • Trio + Dies Irae + Symphony 4 + Sonata 4
    Megadisc, 7858
    (from Amazon.com)
    Full price.
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    Latest update by Andrew James Horton

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