Friday 20 September 2013

Мелодия archive goes online

Melodiya, the Soviet state music label, has recently celebrated its Fiftieth birthday, and now they have unexpectedly announced that they will begin releasing digitized versions of their enormous catalogue. 

The first batch of 350 albums was made available on Apple's iTunes store on Tuesday of this week - with more to follow in November.

Link to Melodiya store in itunes 

The distribution is being handled by a label called The Orchard. From their website:


The first titles to be released exclusively on iTunes
beginning September 17, 2013
NEW YORK, NY; MOSCOW, RS – The Orchard, a pioneering music, film and video distribution company and the iconic Russian record label Melodiya (Russian: Мелодия) announce the digital release of 750 titles from Melodiya’s historic catalogue to be made available exclusively on iTunes. The first albums will be released on iTunes beginning on September 17 with a second group scheduled for early November. iTunes is also hand-selecting titles to feature in a dedicated Melodiya section of the store. Other digital service providers will begin offering Melodiya titles after the New Year. This announcement celebrates the result of a long-term initiative to digitize Melodiya’s catalogue and the first time Melodiya’s classical catalog has ever been available for download.
Since Melodiya gained ownership of its catalogue from the former Soviet Union, it has reinvigorated its imprint, which began with a strategic move in June 2013 to re-release some of their popular recordings on the vinyl format.  In addition to the reintroduction of vinyl releases, Melodiya has invested significant resources in re-mastering the original recordings, digitizing them and making them available for sale globally.
Andrey Krichevsky, CEO for Melodiya, says:
“Digitizing the catalogue for download was a natural step forward in making Melodiya’s repertoire widely available. Over time, the tape archive has become less protected from the environment, and we realized that it was critical to try and revitalize this recorded legacy for future generations.”
The newly available digital collection will feature recordings from Melodiya’s historic classical catalogue, including notable artists such as conductors Evgeny Svetlanov, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Kirill Kondrashin, Yevgeny Mravinsky; pianists Emil Gilels, Sviatoslav Richter, Maria Grinberg, Glenn Gould, Yevgeny Kissin, Maria Yudina, and Van Cliburn; violinists David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan; violist Yuri Bashmet; cellists Mstislav Rostropovich, Natalia Gutman, and Daniil Shafran; the Borodin and Beethoven string quartets; and opera singers Feodor Chaliapin, Galina Vishnevskaya, and Irina Arkhipova.
Brad Navin, CEO for The Orchard, says:
“Melodiya represents a wealth of the most authentic Soviet era recordings featuring the works of Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and other greats. We are proud to work with this historic label and happy that many of the recorded masters were able to be preserved to be available to the world digitally.”
Highlights from the classical releases will include a complete set of Mahler symphonies with Kirill Kondrashin; Symphony Nos. 4 & 6 by Mieczysław Weinberg, also with Kondrashin; the complete Sibelius and Prokofiev symphonies with Gennady Rozhdestvensky and the USSR State Radio and TV Orchestra; Bruckner’s 8th and 9th symphonies with Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic; the complete string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich with the Borodin Quartet as well as select Shostakovich quartets featuring the Beethoven Quartet (the quartet who premiered 13 out of Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets); Shostakovich violin and viola sonatas featuring David Oistrakh, Yuri Bashmet, and Sviatoslav Richter. Other highlights include Schnittke’s Faust Concerto and Concerto Grosso with Natalia Gutman, Oleg Kagan, and Raisa Kotova, led by Gennady Rozhdestvensky; the complete Beethoven sonatas with pianist Maria Grinberg; and many rare recordings by David Oistrakh, Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels, Elizaveta Gilels, Leonid Kogan, Tatiana Nikolayeva, Yevgeny Kissin and others.
Non-classical titles will include popular Soviet bands such as Zemlyane, Pesnyary, Samotsvety; the Azerbaijani vocal jazz quartet “Gaya”, instrumental ensemble Melodiya, series such as Sdelano V Sssr and Musical Cocktail;  Kamarinskaya / Russian Balalaika, and representatives of Soviet funk and jazz. Melodiya also plans to release recordings of the iconic Russian artist Vladimir Vysotsky. 
Firma Melodiya was established by the ordinance of the USSR Council of Ministers in 1964 to replace the former All-Union Studio of Gramophone Recording and unite the sound recording studios located in Moscow, Leningrad, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Tbilisi, Alma-Ata and Tashkent. Being a monopoly of domestic record production and having the biggest creative musical potential in the world, for more than 25 years Firma Melodiya has accomplished a tremendous work recording and releasing records of classical, folk and popular music, as well as literary, historical and political recordings. Dozens of millions of records sold in the most remote corners of the Soviet Union and many countries of the world, and over 90 thousand archival tapes stored by Firma Melodiya are obvious evidence of the fact.
Firma Melodiya today is a modern company that holds a confident position in the Russian and world sound recording markets, and actively cooperates with its foreign partners. The nearest plans include further reissues of the most treasured recordings from the archives on CDs as well as on vinyl and digital sales.
As of 1973, Melodiya had released approximately 1,200 vinyl albums with an extensive catalogue of music by Soviet composers, musicians, theater actors, authors of fairy tales for children, and more. Melodiya also released some of the most successful western pop, jazz and rock records, including Michael Jackson, ABBA, Paul McCartney, Boney M., Dave Grusin, Amanda Lear, and Bon Jovi.
In other countries, Melodiya recordings imported from the USSR were often sold under the label MK, which stood for Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga (“International Book”, Russian: Μеждународная Книга). In the United States, many Melodiya recordings appeared on the domestically manufactured Monitor Records label. In the 1970s and 1980s, Melodiya recordings of classical and folk music appeared on Melodiya/Angel (USA) and Melodiya/HMV (other countries) as the result of an exclusive contract with EMI, the owner of both labels."

At £8 per single album (more in case of larger discs), each download doesn't come cheap compared to other online vendors, and I'm sure that some enthusiasts will miss the physical product (myself included - especially RE: liner notes!). I've started the collection with Evgeny Svetlanov and the USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra playing Rimsky-Korsakov (image below).

Audio quality is decent, though not excellent (clearly the result from a live recording or transfer). The real shame is a lack of liner notes, simply for information on the recording, if anything. The titles don't come cheap, but it certainly beats hunting round the collector's trading centres of the internet.

Of course, readers are directed to the first Weinberg gem of the collection to be released, Kondrashin conducting the Symphony Orchestra of the Moscow State Philharmonic Society in Symphonies 4 & 6 (picture below). Stay posted for a review.

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