Great Conductors – Nicolai Malko

0 of 5 stars

Nicolai Malko
Borodin, Dvorak, Glinka, Haydn, Nielsen, Prokofiev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Suppé, Tchaikovsky
Recorded 1947-56

Reviewed by: Bill Newman

Reviewed: August 2002
CD No: IMG Artists CZS 5 75121 2 (2 CDs)

I am proud to say that I met the great man in person when he called at EMI to meet John Whittle, my old boss – still out at lunch.

Malko, always the non-assuming Russian gentleman with the expensive grey overcoat, matching Homburg, and the broadest of smiles, was the sweetest of men to talk to. His recordings on the HMV ’plum’ label were always good sellers, but he was never one of those musicians who pushed himself into the foreground.

Content to discuss the merits of Shotakovich 10 (mentioning both the Mitropoulos and Boult performances in London), he expressed disappointment with No.11. His Royal Festival Hall performance of Shostakovich 5 with the BBC Symphony should certainly be resurrected for future release.

I suppose I attended most of his concerts, and remember with special affection the Tchaikovsky orchestral cycle with the London Philharmonic on seven successive Thursdays at the Royal Albert Hall in 1950.

Someone has had a brainstorm concocting the programme for this release. It is unfortunate (but inevitable) that Danacord released its Malko 2-CD set in advance of this one. Malko’s associations with the Danish State Radio Orchestra (along with Fritz Busch) did wonders for the ensemble. The Danish Tono recordings together with some of the EMI London releases were the best things Malko achieved on disc, including a Dvorak ’New World’ that knocks spots off the Philharmonia remake included here.

The Philharmonia inclusions otherwise on this Great Conductors set, with the magnificent Borodin Symphony 2 and Prokofiev Symphony 7 taking pride of place, have been completely spoilt by the truncation of Malko’s Tchaikovsky ’Nutcracker Suite’ (five movements instead of eight). My good friend Robert Layton, loyal to his late colleague Trevor Harvey’s review of the original release, has completely forgotten that Gramophone magazine singled out Malko’s ’Dance of the Flowers’ as ideal, “at a steady, correct tempo that makes perfect sense”. Robert also omits to mention that this same magazine praised Malko’s Tchaikovsky 4 (Philharmonia) as one of the most outstanding ever made. Why that has never been reissued since the HMV CLP LP release is beyond me. It would have made greater sense to make this release ’all-Russian’ – the Tchaikovsky 4 followed by the complete Nutcracker Suite. The Rimsky and Glinka are welcome; Haydn’s ’Oxford’ Symphony and Suppé’s Poet and Peasant overture are superfluous; Nielsen’s Maskarade overture is obviously tacked on for good measure.

A second Malko release might still be envisaged to include the complete Dvorak Slavonic Dances, Grieg Lyric Suite, said Tchaikovsky 4, and a choice of overtures including Beethoven Leonore III. But it is no good praying for miracles to happen!

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