Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Vladimir Ashkenazy (*1937)


This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.


Today’s edition of Vinyl’s Revenge contributes to a few ongoing threads – first, it continues a mini-series on the Tuesday Blog exploring Mozart’s Piano Concertos – in fact, it launches a look at an old Time-Life5-LP compilation of hiss “Late” Piano Concertos and, second, it features another pianist who “Moonlights” as a conductor.

In preparing for this post, I realized that Vladimir Ashkenazy turned 80 this past Summer. This Russian born and trained pianist came into prominence in the mid- to late 1950’s, following in the tradition of the great Soviet-era musicians such as Gilels, Richter, Oistrakh and Rostropovich. The latter three managed to develop an international career whilst remaining based out of the USSR, and it appeared that he would do the same; however, Ashkenazy left his homeland in 1963 not for the “artistic reasons” cited by most émigrés but for a woman—a stately blonde from Iceland named Thorunn Johannsdottir, who studied piano at the Moscow Conservatoire. To marry Ashkenazy, Johannsdottir was forced to give up her Icelandic citizenship and declare that she wanted to live in the USSR.

In his memoirs, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev recollects that on a visit to London Ashkenazy refused to go back to the Soviet Union. Khrushchev mentions that Ashkenazy then went to the Soviet Embassy in London and asked what to do, who in turn referred the matter to Moscow. Khrushchev claims to have been of the opinion that to require Ashkenazy to return to the USSR would have made him an 'Anti-Soviet'.

In 1963 Ashkenazy decided to leave the USSR permanently, establishing residence in London where his wife's parents lived. The couple moved to Iceland in 1968 where, in 1972, Ashkenazy became a citizen. Later the family moved to Lucerne, Switzerland.

Ashkenazy has recorded a wide range of piano repertoire, solo, chamber and concerti. His discography is varied and in many cases authoritative – ChopinBeethoven, Mozart and the late-Romantic Russians (notably Rachmaninov and Prokofiev). Midway through his pianistic career, Ashkenazy branched into conducting. One of his earliest conducting endeavours was a solid complete Mozart piano concerto cycle (conducting from the keyboard with the Philharmonia Orchestra). Our first selection in today’s playlist is from that cycle, re-issued in the Time-Life collection I referred to up front.

Today, he performs almost exclusively as a conductor, with long-standing associations with the Royal Philharmonic, NHK and Sydney Symphonies. The complete album I retained to complete today’s playlist is an early digital recording with the English Chamber Orchestra.

Happy Listening!


Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto no.21 in C Major, K.467 ('Elvira Madigan')
Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano & conducting
Label: Time Life Records ‎– STL M01 (Disk 2, Side 2)
Format: 5 × Vinyl, LP, Compilation
Issued in 1973


Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Siegfried Idyll, for small orchestra in E Major, WWV 103

Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Verklärte Nacht for string orchestra (1917; arr. from String Sextet, Op.4)
English Chamber Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy, conducting
Label: Decca ‎– 410 111-1
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album (DDA)
Issued in 1984

YouTube playlist - https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...6Npko31_fnk65J