Heavenly Slug: A Return to the Skies

Heavenly Slug (1945)

Following the end of the 900-day Siege of Leningrad (1941–1944), Joseph Stalin ordered into production a lighthearted musical comedy. Filming soon commenced at Lenfilm, then the Soviet Union’s 2nd-largest film studio, on what would come to be known as “Heavenly Slug.” Lenfilm had been idled during the siege, with much of the studio’s personnel dispersed to locations in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, so there was great enthusiasm for the new project.

The movie opens with Major Vasily Bulochkin, a fighter pilot of the Soviet Air Force, bailing out of his damaged and burning airplane. Bulochkin parachutes to safety, but is injured when he lands in a tree. During his subsequent convalescence, he is visited by his fellow pilot officers and friends, Senior Lieutenant Semyon Tucha and Captain Sergei Kaisarov. As they stroll through the gardens of the sanitarium, they vow not to fall in love for the duration of the war.

Polikarpov Po-2 and friends during production of Heavenly Slug

It doesn’t take long, however, before their plans are thwarted; first by the pilots and staff of a women’s air squadron, and then by a young journalist, Valya Petrova. At the same time, Major Bulochkin, not yet fully recovered from his injuries, must come to terms with his new machine: the slow, old-fashioned and ungainly Polikarpov Po-2.

Vasily Pavlovich Solovyov-Sedoi (1907–1979), among his many accomplishments as one of the greatest songsmiths of the Soviet Union, composed the full score to “Heavenly Slug.” The creative output of this People’s Artist, Laureate of Lenin and the State Prize, and Hero of Socialist Labour remains well-known in the former USSR and abroad.

Vasily Pavlovich Solovyov-Sedoi

Solovyov-Sedoi was born on 25 April, 1907, in St. Petersburg, to a peasant family that had come to the city from the Vitebsk region to earn a living. Folk music surrounded Vasily Pavlovich in his childhood. He himself learned to play balalaika and picked out tunes he heard the adults singing. After the Bolshevik Revolution, when family circumstances were improved, he began his studies on piano. It was then that Vasily Solovyov revealed his astonishing gift for improvisation. Following the advice of composer Aleksey Semyonovich Zhivotov, he entered a musical college and was later transferred to the Leningrad conservatory. The young composer tried his hand at various genres, but songwriting appealed to him most.

Solovyov-Sedoi

Solovyov-Sedoi’s gift for the composition of popular songs achieved its greatest recognition during the Great Patriotic War (1941–1945). After the war Vasily Pavlovich dedicated himself to the composition of new songs, musical comedies, two ballets, a symphony, chamber works, and scores to more than thirty motion pictures. Among the best remembered of these works was “Let’s Go!”, written for the 1956 Lenfilm production, “Maxim Perepelitsa.” The song would eventually earn for Solovyov-Sedoi the coveted Lenin Prize in 1959.

Yakovlev Yak-3M, © Classic Aircraft Photography

The language of the composer is distinguished by the vastness of melodic inspiration at his disposal. At the same time the way in which these melodies are interpreted is purely unique. Sincerity, ease of lyrical expressiveness, rhythmical liberty and improvisation make the distinctive style of Vasily Pavlovich Solovyov-Sedoi extremely charming, and have endeared him to generations of loyal fans.

In anticipation of the 2017 Flying Proms at the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, VA, Dr. Andrey Kasparov was invited to prepare a suite for orchestra. The basis for the project was Solovyov-Sedoi’s original themes from “Heavenly Slug.”

The completed “Orchestral Suite after Vasily Solovyov-Sedoi” is comprised of five movements, each inspired by music from the 1945 motion picture:

    1. Before We Fly
    2. Because We Are Pilots!
    3. Behind German Lines
    4. Waltz: Planes First, Love Later
    5. Spell of Lady Aces

Polikarpov Po-2

It was intended that airworthy examples of two of the many airplanes featured in the original Lenfilm production would fly to accompany the premiere performance of Dr. Kasparov’s suite. These included a veteran Polikparpov Po-2 and a genuine Yakovlev Yak-3M, both resident to the Military Aviation Museum.

Vasily Pavlovich Solovyov-Sedoi

The effort to prepare this music for performance was undertaken over a period of several months and required a considerable amount of research. A breakthrough was achieved when a rare six-volume compendium of Solovyov-Sedoi’s body of work, encompassing songs from “Heavenly Slug” and many other obscure scores, was uncovered at the Library of Congress, Music Division, Washington, D.C.

Dr. Kasparov visited the Performing Arts Reading Room at the James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress on 13 January, 2017, to make a thorough review of this archive. The successful extraction of Solovyov-Sedoi’s musical structures from these six volumes of material enabled the accurate and authentic reconstruction of Vasily Pavlovich’s stirring melodies from “Heavenly Slug.”

Dr. Kasprov’s finished suite for orchestra was premiered by Symphonicity, under the direction of Dennis Zeisler, on Saturday, 10 June, 2017, at the Military Aviation Museum’s 7th-annual Flying Proms.

Grand Piano: The Key to Florent Schmitt

Invencia Piano Duo is pleased to have been included among the renowned artists on a new album from Grand Piano, issued to mark the label’s 5th anniversary.

Launched in 2012, the Grand Piano label gained a reputation for producing high quality recordings of rare masterworks for keyboard. Dedicated to the exploration of undiscovered piano repertoire, the label specializes in premiere recordings and complete cycles by less well-known composers, those whose output might otherwise have been neglected or unrecorded.

Spanning three centuries of music from around the world, the Grand Piano catalogue includes music by past composers such as Leopold Koželuch, Alexander Tcherepnin and Mieczysław Weinberg, as well as works by living composers such as Valentin Silvestrov, Martial Solal and Philip Glass. Grand Piano artists are very often authorities on these composers and experts on their chosen repertoire, giving their performances a unique stamp of authenticity. Invencia Piano Duo is no exception.

A 3-CD sampler of the Grand Piano catalogue, The Key Collection includes single tracks from complete works for piano. Presented in chronological order, among these is the Mazurka from Feuillets de voyage, Book 2, Op. 26, by Florent Schmitt.

It is unclear whether many of Schmitt’s works for piano duet had ever received formal public performances in Europe, prior to the Invencia Piano Duo’s revival of Schmitt’s compositions. Feuillets de voyage first appeared on Volume 3 of Invencia’s Complete Original Works by Florent Schmitt. Volume 3 also heralded the debut recordings of a six-movement work composed between 1895 and 1902, Musiques foraines, Op. 22, and the Marche du 163 R.I., Op. 48.

Now packaged as a singular compilation, you may enjoy all four of Invencia’s albums of Florent Schmitt’s music on a 4-CD set by Grand Piano.

Florent Schmitt (1937)

Florent Schmitt (1870 – 1958) was one of France’s less well-known classical composers. Born in the small town of Blâmont (Meurthe-et-Moselle, Lorraine), Schmitt’s German surname belied his irrespressible French musicianship.

Schmitt was a contemporary of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, although he outlived both men by decades. Educated at the Conservatoire de Paris by Théodore Dubois, Albert Lavignac, André Gédalge, Jules Massenet and Gabriel Fauré, among others, Schmitt developed a style of composition that, while distinctly French, exploited the grandiose aspects of orchestration more typical of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

His last large-scale work, the Symphony No. 2, was premiered at the Strasbourg Festival by the French National Radio Orchestra, conducted by Charles Munch just months before Scmitt’s death in 1958 at the age of 87.

E-mail invenciaduo@gmail.com for further details.

© Invencia Piano Duo, Phillip Nones, Naxos Records

Old Friends in the New Year: Florent Schmitt

Invencia Piano Duo invite you to join them in a Champagne toast this New Year’s!

They begin 2017 with the release of a box set that will include their complete four-album cycle of Florent Schmitt’s original works for piano duet and duo, first issued by Naxos Records on its Grand Piano label between 2012 and 2013.

Issued in 2012, Volume 1 contained Schmitt’s Trois rapsodies, Op. 53, and the first-ever recording of Schmitt’s Sept pièces, Op. 15, composed in 1899. The album concluded with a previously unpublished work, Rhapsodie parisienne. Composed in 1900, it is one of two unpublished duets by Schmitt. The first volume was voted “Recording of the Month” and “Critics’ Choice” by MusicWeb International and Naxos Records, respectively, in May of 2013.

It is unclear whether many of Schmitt’s works for piano duet had ever received formal public performances in Europe, prior to the Invencia Piano Duo’s revival of Schmitt’s compositions. A number appear to have been composed by Schmitt as piano études, particularly the two premiere recordings, Sur cinq notes, Op. 34 and Eight Easy Pieces, Op. 41, which were included on Volume 2.

Volume 3 heralded the debut recordings of a six-movement work composed between 1895 and 1902, Musiques foraines, Op. 22, and the Marche du 163 R.I., Op. 48. Volume 4 featured Trois pièces récréatives, Op. 37. The same album contained the first-ever issue of the Lied et Scherzo, Op. 54, in Schmitt’s version for piano four-hands, played on two pianos; composed in 1910 for double woodwind quintet; alternate editions of this piece were also prepared by the composer for horn and piano, as well as cello and piano.

Now packaged as a singular compilation, you may enjoy all four of Invencia’s albums of Florent Schmitt’s music on this latest release by Grand Piano.

Florent Schmitt (1870 – 1958) was one of France’s less well-known classical composers. Born in the small town of Blâmont (Meurthe-et-Moselle, Lorraine), Schmitt’s German surname belied his irrespressible French musicianship.

Schmitt was a contemporary of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, although he outlived both men by decades. Educated at the Conservatoire de Paris by Théodore Dubois, Albert Lavignac, André Gédalge, Jules Massenet and Gabriel Fauré, among others, Schmitt developed a style of composition that, while distinctly French, exploited the grandiose aspects of orchestration more typical of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

His last large-scale work, the Symphony No. 2, was premiered at the Strasbourg Festival by the French National Radio Orchestra, conducted by Charles Munch just months before Scmitt’s death in 1958 at the age of 87.

E-mail invenciaduo@gmail.com for further details.

© Invencia Piano Duo, Phillip Nones, Naxos Records

Perestroika: 25 Years Later

Perestroika (перестро́йка) refers to a series of reforms widely associated with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev — an extension of Glasnost (гла́сность) — instituted during the latter half of the 1980s. Literally translated, Perestroika means “restructuring”, an allusion to Gorbachev’s attempts to restructure his country’s centralized political and economic systems. These collective reforms are said to have contributed to the dramatic events that unfolded in Eastern Europe and across the constituent republics of the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991.

On 25 December, 1991, in a televised announcement, Mikhail Gorbachev tendered his resignation as President of the Soviet Union. He declared the office extinct and ceded all power to Boris Yeltsin, then President of the Russian SFSR. On the night of 25 December, at 19:32 MSK, the Red Banner of the Soviet Union was lowered for the last time over the Kremlin in Moscow. The tri-colour of the Russian Federation was raised in its place, thus marking the symbolic end of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The following day, on 26 December, the upper chamber of the USSR’s Supreme Soviet voted both itself and the Soviet Union out of existence.

From 1998, Andrey Kasparov’s “Perestroika” features an orchestra that re-tunes sans order, and, before a final collapse, changes its seating. The crowd’s roar is imitated by the speech of the musicians, where words borrowed from the lexicon of political prisoners and Russian euphemisms, with usage of extended vocabulary, are vocalised. Included are musical quotations from the 1930s, La Marseillaise, and the Hymn of the USSR.

vmm3049

 
E-mail invenciaduo@gmail.com for further details.

A performance of this original work is available from Vienna Modern Masters (VMM3049), recorded in 1999 with conductor Jiri Mikula and the Moravian Philharmonic.

All Hallows’ Eve: Totentanz

Totentanz was just one of several works by Franz Liszt that evoked his apparent obsession with death. It is understood the brooding young Liszt haunted the halls of Les Invalides in Paris, besides gambling dens and asylums, in the early 1830s. He even descended into Gallic dungeons to observe the condemned prisoners.

Liszt wrote versions of Totentanz for two pianos (S.652) and solo piano (S.525). Edited by Emil von Sauer, the original edition for two pianos merely incorporated the solo part of Liszt’s rendering for piano and orchestra, with a transcription of the orchestral accompaniment in the second piano. Dr. Andrey Kasparov has re-imagined this setting as a work for piano duo. It shows to great effect the breadth of Totentanz, when distributed evenly between two performers, as demonstrated in this recent recital by Invencia Piano Duo.

E-mail invenciaduo@gmail.com for further details.

Busoni on Bach on Albinoni

In anticipation of Invencia Piano Duo’s tribute to composers Tomaso Albinoni, Alessandro Marcello, and J.S. Bach, from a past season with the Norfolk Chamber Consort, please enjoy this rendition of Ferrucio Busoni’s two-piano arrangement of Fantasia contrappuntistica on J.S. Bach’s Art of the Fugue.

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3 October, 2016, 7:30PM, Christ and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

Exploring Albinoni

The Norfolk Chamber Consort, under the direction of Andrey Kasparov and Oksana Lutsyshyn, present Exploring Albinoni, featuring the music of Tomaso Albinoni and his contemporaries, J.S. Bach and Alessandro Marcello.

Guest artists will include the winner of the 2015 Lisa Relaford Coston Voice Competition, Logan Kenison. George Corbett will solo in oboe concerti by Albinoni and Marcello. The program will commence with Remo Giazotto’s arrangement for solo organ of themes by Albinoni, with organist Kevin Kwan at the keyboard.

A pre-concert talk by Andrey Kasparov will begin at 7:15PM.

Tickets at the door $25.00, Students $10.00.

E-mail invenciaduo@gmail.com for further details.

Click here for a complete schedule of the 2016-2017 performance series.

This program is presented as a part of Sacred Music in a Sacred Space, Christ and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

© Christ and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church & Norfolk Chamber Consort

June Release: Bowles Encore on Naxos

8.559787In this second installment of Invencia’s 2-CD release by Naxos Records, Invencia is delighted to continue its exploration of unknown masterworks for solo and duo piano, through the works of Paul Bowles.

Volume 2 includes two groups of arrangements: Blue Mountain Ballads (1946), set for piano duet by Dr. Andrey Kasparov, and three pieces set for two pianos by the prominent American piano duo of Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale.

The latter three arrangements were found by Dr. Kasparov in the Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale Collection, held in the Peter Jay Sharp Special Collections, Lila Acheson Wallace Library, The Juilliard School. Subsequently, Dr. Kasparov deciphered and reconstructed the aforementioned manuscripts, which allowed the duets to be recorded for the very first time.

Also featured is Night Waltz, distinguished by its poly-metric counterpoint and cornucopia of musical ideas. These thoughts flow freely, uninterrupted by cadences. Attentive listeners may also perceive that the piece was composed after Bowles had settled in Morocco: exotic scale patterns of the Middle East at times seep through the dense texture of the work. The composer’s talent is evident in this work from 1949, the first track on Invencia’s second CD of solo and duo piano compositions by Paul Bowles.