Alexander Malofeev

Alexander Malofeev
Alexander Malofeev, pianist (b. 2001, Moscow). Photo by Liudmila Malofeeva

Monday, July 02, 2018

Leoš Janáček: Taras Bulba – Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Santtu-Matias Rouvali (HD 1080p)

Under the baton of the talented Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra performs Leoš Janáček's Taras Bulba, rhapsody for orchestra. Recorded at Gothenburg Concert Hall, on May 4, 2017.

Leoš Janáček is one of the important Czech composers. Inspired by nature and the folk music of his country he created music both original and inventive. The Taras Bulba rhapsody was composed during the Great War, when Janáček wanted to show, in his music, that the Russian people could not be suppressed or crushed. It's a cruel and violent story of the Cossack leader Taras Bulba who kills his own son, sees the other executed by the Poles, and is finally himself burnt at the stake – all magnificently portrayed in music by Janáček.

Leoš Janáček (1854-1928)

♪ Taras Bulba, rhapsody for orchestra, JW 6/15 (1915, rev. 1918)

i. The Death of Andrei
ii. The Death of Ostap
iii. The Prophecy and Death of Taras Bulba

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Santtu-Matias Rouvali

Gothenburg Concert Hall, May 4, 2017

(HD 1080p)

Leoš Janáček loved all things Russian. He formed a Russian Club in Brno in 1897, visited Russia twice in the early years of the twentieth century, and even sent his children to Saint Petersburg to study. Of the Russian writers he admired, including Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, it was the novelist and playwright Nikolai Gogol he loved most. Janáček considered writing music based on Gogol's tale of Taras Bulba as early as 1905, although a decade passed before he started work on it. He completed the score three years later, the day before his sixty-first birthday. Still, Taras Bulba is one of Janáček's "early" compositions.

Taras Bulba is Janáček's first significant orchestral work. Like Jenůfa, which was premiered in 1904 but didn't come to attention in the larger music world until it was staged in Prague in 1916, Taras Bulba would wait to find its audience. When it was finally performed for the first time in January 1924, Janácek left the hall as soon as the piece was over (the concert was billed as an early observance of his seventieth birthday and he didn't want to celebrate until the actual day arrived) and he failed to hear the enthusiastic crowd calling for him.

The violent, bloody story of Taras Bulba is one of Gogol's most enduring and influential works. Ernest Hemingway called it "one of the ten greatest books of all time" (although Vladimir Nabokov, normally a Gogol admirer, likened it to "rollicking yarns about lumberjacks"). First published as a short story in 1835 and then reworked as a prose epic (of a somewhat less-than-epical 150 pages) seven years later, it tells the tale of Taras Bulba, an aging Cossack, and his two sons, and how all three meet their deaths. (The word Cossack means adventurer.) The story is set in sixteenth-century Ukraine, which was then under the rule of Poland. Taras Bulba, a dyed-in-the-wool Cossack, is a warrior for life, and he pushes his sons onto the battlefield as soon as they are out of school, only to watch them die.

Janáček claimed that he was drawn to Taras Bulba because of his belief that "in the whole world there are not fires or tortures strong enough to destroy the vitality of the Russian nation", paraphrasing Gogol's own lines. "For the sake of these words, which fell into searing sparks and flames off the stake on which Taras Bulba, the famous hetman of the Cossacks, died, did I compose this rhapsody." Janáček picked three episodes from Gogol's tale, each dealing with a death – first that of the sons Andrei and Ostap, and then Taras Bulba himself.

The Death of Andrei depicts the tragedy of Taras's first son, who falls in love with a Polish noblewoman and becomes a traitor. The father confronts his son, renounces him, and shoots him. "What a Cossack he could have been", he says, "...and now, now he's finished, dead ignominiously, like a dog". Music of romance and battle merge in the abrupt, discontinuous, epigrammatic style that is quintessential Janáček. (His idiosyncratic language, with its pungent harmonies and speechlike rhythms, is highly indebted to the study of Moravian folk music he undertook more than a decade before the famous field work done by Bartók and Kodály.) In Taras Bulba, Janáček learned how music can explore conflicting emotions and states of mind. Janáček's music perfectly matches Gogol's words, as for example, when he writes of the day Taras and his sons ride off to fight – the sons holding back tears "out of respect for their father, who was perturbed himself, although he struggled not to show it. It was a gray day. The green steppes glittered brightly. Birds chattered discordantly".

In The Death of Ostap, the second son is taken prisoner by the Poles and transported to Warsaw, where he is tortured and finally executed as his father watches from the crowd. A grotesque mazurka suggests the Polish victory, the E flat clarinet Ostap's screams. Janáček's music is unsparing and disturbing, and nearly as graphic as a photograph.

To avenge Ostap's death, Taras Bulba leads the Cossacks across Poland, where he too is taken prisoner and sentenced to die at the stake. Flames rise up around him, and Gogol writes the words Janáček couldn't forget: "But are there in the world such fires, such tortures, such forces as could overcome Russian strength?" Janáček's answer, with loud bells and roaring organ chords, is unequivocal.

Source: Phillip Huscher (

The 2017-2018 season sees Santtu-Matias Rouvali (b. 1985, Finland) begin two new tenures; Chief Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony and Principal Guest Conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, alongside these positions he continues his longstanding Chief Conductor-ship with the Tampere Philharmonic close to his home in Finland. Hailed by The Guardian as "the latest sit-up-and-listen talent to emerge from the great Finnish conducting tradition", until last season Santtu-Matias Rouvali was also Principal Guest Conductor of the Copenhagen Philharmonic.

Rouvali has upcoming debuts with the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, Münchner Philharmoniker and Orquesta Nacionale de España in Madrid, as well as regular relationships with other orchestras across Europe, including the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in Paris, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin; and has ambitious touring plans with his own orchestras over the next few seasons in Europe, Japan and North America. His first season as Chief Conductor in Gothenburg includes a substantial Nordic tour with pianist Hélène Grimaud.

Previously a Dudamel Fellow at the conducting programme with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, last season he made a triumphant return as a highlight of their subscription season, alongside other American debuts with the Minnesota and Cincinnati symphony orchestras.

In June 2017, as Chief Conductor-designate, he joined Gustavo Dudamel and the Gothenburg Symphony in their El Sistema Side by Side project with the Gothenburg Symphony, which has been a hugely successful summer camp for children and young people.

As another cornerstone to his tenure in Gothenburg, he looks forward to adding his mark to the Orchestra's impressive recording legacy. Rouvali's latest disc – of Nielsen and Sibelius' violin concertos is with the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra and Baiba Skride – was released in summer 2015 on ORFEO. Rouvali has been Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Tampere Philharmonic since 2013, and in addition to his other recordings, highlights of the tenure so far include a Sibelius symphony cycle in autumn 2015, and the Orchestra's first tour to Japan in spring 2017 where they were accompanied by an exhibition of original Moomin drawings by Tove Jansson to mark the opening of the new museum at the Tampere Hall.

Alongside an extremely busy symphonic conducting career, as Chief Conductor in Tampere he has conducted Verdi's La forza del destino with Tampere Opera and his next project with them, in spring 2018, is a world premiere of Olli Kortekangas's My Brother's Keeper (Veljeni vartija) with Tampere Opera.


More photos

See also

Santtu-Matias Rouvali – All the posts

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra – All the posts

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