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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 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 300 thousand archival tapes stored by Firma Melodiya are obvious evidence of the fact.

It is really hard to mention all the musical performers who have recorded at Firma Melodiya as a complete catalogue of even the most popular records would have taken dozens of pages.

Perhaps, the most grandiose project ever accomplished by Firma Melodiya in the Soviet time was connected with the USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra and its leader Evgeny Svetlanov. Anthology of Russian Symphonic Music – is it really possible to think of a more monumental series ever undertaken in the practice of world sound recording? It took it more than 25 years to create. Hundreds of hours of Russian music across more than a century and a half. It included not just the world recognized masterpieces by Mikhail Glinka, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Alexander Borodin, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Modest Mussorgsky, Sergei Rachmaninov, Alexander Scriabin and Igor Stravinsky, but also recordings of all orchestral works by Alexander Dargomyzhsky, Mily Balakirev, Alexander Glazunov, Sergei Taneyev and Anatoly Lyadov, compositions by less known yet indispensable composers, without which the picture of the Russian musical art would have been incomplete, such as Nikolai Medtner, Anton Arensky, Vassily Kalinnikov, Sergei Lyapunov and others. The USSR State Orchestra conducted by Svetlanov also recorded all 27 (!) symphonies by Nikolai Myaskovsky.

Another prominent conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky paid equal attention to both concert and studio work. First as a conductor of the Big Symphony Orchestra of All-Union Radio and later as a founder of the USSR Ministry of Culture Orchestra, that became Firma Melodiya's home collective, Gennady Rozhdestvensky presented unique concert programmes combining commonly known compositions with rarely performed ones, or masterpieces that were completely unknown to the Soviet public. Most of the compositions conducted by him were recorded, and the jackets featured the conductor's own commentary. Rozhdestvensky was the first in this country to record all symphonies by Anton Bruckner, Jean Sibelius and Arthur Honneger, symphonies and ballets by Sergei Prokofiev; he supervised the Melodiya releases of symphonic sets of Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Alexander Glazunov and Dmitri Shostakovich.

Yevgeny Mravinsky, a friend of Shostakovich's and the first interpreter of his works, was a leader of another celebrated orchestra – Honoured Collective of the Republic, Academic Symphony Orchestra of Leningrad Philharmonic Society. His numerous studio and concert recordings of compositions by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Carl Maria von Weber, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner, Anton Bruckner, Richard Strauss, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky and Dmitri Shostakovich made in Leningrad, Moscow and abroad (for instance, a series of records Yevgeny Mravinsky in Vienna) and released by Melodiya are true gems for the connoisseurs of classical music.

Vladimir Fedoseyev succeeded to Rozhdestvensky in the Big Symphony Orchestra of All-Union Radio. In the course of time, the orchestra conducted by him reached a new level of performing mastery to win over numerous audiences in Russia and overseas. From the first years with the orchestra, Fedoseyev devoted plenty of time to studio work recording compositions from the Russian opera and symphonic classical music, including some of the opuses rarely performed by other conductors (for example, the author's edition of Mussorgsky's opera Boris Godunov). Many of the recordings made by Fedoseyev were given prestigious foreign awards.

The collaboration between the All-Union Studio of Gramophone Recording and later Firma Melodiya and the USSR Bolshoi Theatre has lasted for many years and brought some fruitful results. The opera and ballet masterpieces of Russian music, as well as the operas by foreign composers most popular with the Soviet listeners have been time and again recorded by the performers, choir and orchestra of the theatre conducted by Nikolai Golovanov, Kirill Kondrashin, Boris Khaikin, Alexander Melik-Pashayev, Evgeny Svetlanov, Yuri Simonov, Mark Ermler and other leading conductors.

There are only very few record labels in the world that can boast a comparable constellation of soloists whose recordings have been released by Melodiya. Among them were some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. Speaking about pianists, it would be enough to mention the names of Sviatoslav Richter, who was recognized as one of the best interpreters of Johann Sebastian Bach's music and who had a colossal repertoire of music spanning three centuries; Emil Gilels, one of the brightest performers of romantic music, who recorded an almost full cycle of Beethoven's sonatas; a subtle "Scriabinist" Vladimir Sofronitsky, who preferred studio work and chamber audiences to large concert halls; Tatiana Nikolayeva, a deep interpreter of polyphonic music by Bach and Shostakovich. The Melodiya magnetic tapes have preserved for the generations to come numerous pages of performances by the violinists David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan, who triumphantly represented the Soviet violin school at some of the most prestigious concerts halls worldwide; recordings by the cellists Mstislav Rostropovich, Daniil Shafran and Natalia Gutman.

It is hard to overestimate the educational role that Firma Melodiya played over the years for the vast Soviet audience. Despite the "radiofication of the entire nation" and a well-organized and developed system of concert life when national tours of the outstanding soloists and ensembles reached the most remote towns and settlements of the Soviet Union, it was a gramophone record that remained the most important and accessible thing that brought the art of music literally to every household.

In the late 1950s, a new ensemble was founded in Moscow. It was the Moscow Chamber Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Barshai, which discovered a new style of performing chamber music for the Soviet musical art. Dozens of recordings of the compositions by Bach, George Frideric Handel, Antonio Vivaldi, Joseph Haydn, Luigi Boccherini, Mozart, Beethoven, as well as Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Mikhail Weinberg, Georgy Sviridov performed by the orchestra sold thousands of copies and are still kept by many music lovers with care.

The chamber ensembles that followed such as the Rosconcert Chamber Orchestra conducted by Lev Markiz, Leningrad Chamber Orchestra of Old and Modern Music conducted by Eduard Serov, Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra conducted by Saulius Sondeckis, and Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Spivakov have all been cooperating with Firma Melodiya enjoying wide popularity thanks to, not last of all, their recordings.

When Sviatoslav Richter initiated an annual music festival of chamber music called "December Nights" held at the State Museum of Visual Arts, it attracted a wide audience owing to its outstanding programmes and participation of some of the most famous Soviet and foreign musicians. A small hall could not seat most of the listeners who wished to be there, so the releases with some of the most interesting recordings from the festival became a real treat to them.

Numerous recordings of Russian choir music that were discoveries for the domestic and foreign listeners should also be noted. The masterpieces of liturgy music by Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, choir concertos by Maxim Berezovsky and Dmitri Bortnyansky, chants from the time of Peter the Great and pieces of old Russian service singing all found their first performance on Melodiya records played by the State Academic Russian Choir conducted by Alexander Sveshnikov, Yurlov Leningrad Academic Choir, the USSR Ministry of Culture Chamber Choir of (more known as the Polyansky Choir) and Moscow Chamber Choir conducted by Vladimir Minin. A series of records titled For 1000 Years of Christening of Russia, an anthology of Russian sacred music that returned to the musical landscape of this country after a few decades of oblivion, drew a wide response.

A not less popular series titled 1000 Years of Music recorded by Ensemble Madrigal attracted the attention of lovers and professional musicians with its medieval, renaissance, baroque compositions coming from various countries that had been little known to the domestic listeners. The Melodiya records revived some of half-forgotten pieces of Russian and Soviet music that had been long absent on the theatre and concert playbills. These are the operas The Fair at Sorochyntsi by Mussorgsky, Dobrynia Nikitich by Alexander Gretchaninov, The Nose by Shostakovich, The Story of a Real Man by Prokofiev and by other Russian composers of the 18th century such as Yevstignei Fomin, Vassily Pashkevich and Dmitri Bortnyansky.

The Firma Melodiya releases unveiled for the Russian and foreign listeners new names of the musicians who continued the glorious traditions of the Soviet performing school such as the pianists Mikhail Pletnev and Yevgeny Kissin, violinists Vadim Repin, Maxim Vengerov and Sergei Stadler, cellists Alexander Rudin and Ivan Monighetti, and introduced the winners of the International Tchaikovsky Competition awards to a wide audience.

From the mid 1980s, when the powerful ideological barriers fell, records with music by modern avant-garde composers such as Alfred Schnittke, Edison Denisov, Sofia Gubaidulina, Vyacheslav Artyomov, Nikolai Karetnikov, Vladimir Martynov and others began to appear.

In addition to that, the staff of Firma Melodiya have extensively worked on restoration and release of recordings by the great performers of the 20th century. That work has resulted in a series named From the Treasury of World Performing Art that features restored recordings by legendary conductors, pianists, organists, violinists, cellists and singers of the past. Complete sets of recordings by Rachmaninov and Feodor Chaliapin have been released. Trophy recordings by the Berlin and Vienna philharmonic orchestras conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler have been re-released several times enjoying a great interest.

The series Outstanding Masters at Concert introduced live recordings made at the halls of Moscow and Leningrad by illustrious foreign musicians such as the conductors Herbert von Karajan, Igor Markevitch, George Enescu and Zubin Metha, pianists Van Cliburn, Glenn Gould and Arthur Rubinstein, violinists Yehudi Menuhin, Henryk Szeryng and Arthur Grumiaux, cellist Pierre Fournier, and tenor Nicolai Gedda.

Firma Melodiya intensively cooperated with some of the world's biggest recording labels. Recoding by Soviet musicians have been released in the countries of Europe, Japan and the USA, while records manufactured under licenses from EMI, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon and Polydor International were released in the USSR introducing some of rarely performed compositions and prominent performers, primarily opera sets, to the domestic public.

Complete Works by P.I. Tchaikovsky on Record was a truly large-scale project realized by Firma Melodiya. To let the widest possible audience hear all the works by the Russian genius, some of the leading soloists, chamber, symphony and choir collectives of this country were involved in the effort.

The early 1990s signified the beginning of a new era for Firma Melodiya. The process of mass production of compact discs was introduced while the production of vinyl records gradually stopped. Among the first CDs were masterpieces of the Russian classical music (symphonic works by Tchaikovsky, Sergei Taneyev and Alexander Glazunov performed by the USSR State Orchestra conducted by Evgeny Svetlanov, choir music by Bortnyansky, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky's compositions for piano performed by Mikhail Pletnev; 24 preludes and fugues by Shostakovich performed by Tatiana Nikolayeva) and contemporary authors (choir music by Rodion Shchedrin, symphonic works by Giya Kancheli, Alfred Schnittke, Edison Denisov and Vyacheslav Artyomov).

For the last 20 years, most of the Firma Melodiya releases have been old recordings on CD, which were previously released on record. In particular, these are a greater part of Anthology of Russian Symphony Music, symphonies and ballets by Prokofiev conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky, recordings by Yevgeny Mravinsky, Sviatoslav Richter and David Oistrakh. However, even during that hard period for the country, Melodiya continued to acquaint its listeners with a new generation of Russian musicians and new musical collectives. One may mention CD releases of the chamber orchestra Musica Viva, ensemble Moscow Baroque, the Chamber Orchestra of the Moscow Conservatory, the recording of Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 performed by the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia conducted by Mark Gorenstein.

Some of the recordings released by Melodiya for the last few years that were barely known or "shelved" in the Soviet time have been rediscovered. The emigration of Kirill Kondrashin, one of the best conductors of the Soviet Union, in 1978 resulted in a ban on reissues of all his records. He had been the first in our country to record all symphonies by Gustav Mahler and Dmitri Shostakovich with the Orchestra of the Moscow Philharmonic Society. Those recordings never saw the light of day in the Soviet Union. There is no doubt that their release on CD became a significant even in the Russian music industry just as it was the case with the release of his outstanding interpretation of Myaskovsky's Symphony No. 6. In this context, we should note the discs of the violinists Mikhail Weiman and Boris Goldstein for giving the art of these remarkable musicians back to us – in their time they remained in the shadow of their more famous peers not at all for creative reasons; and also a disc with recordings made over the years by one of the creators of the Soviet piano school Yakov Flier.

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 and also some joint projects with the leading Russian musicians of the 21st century.
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    April 17, 2014