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Recital programme: “Behind the Iron Curtain”


Available 20–27 October at https://www.youtube.com/user/NWUMusic


Violin: Piet Koornhof
Piano: Jana Mathee
Venue: Conservatory Hall, School of Music, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa
Recording date: 3 October 2020
Recording engineer: Stefan van der Walt
Piano: Steinway & Sons
Piano technicians: The Piano Place
Violin: Boris Sverdlik 2002


  1. Alexis Weissenberg — Romance
  2. Myroslav Skoryk — Melody
  3. Sulkhan Tsintsadze — Melody
  4. Julian Krein — Berceuse
  5. Nikolai Rakov — 3 Pieces:
    i. Improvisation
    ii. Scherzino
    iii. Poeme
  6. Yevgeny Svetlanov — Two Simple Melodies:
    i. Song
    ii. Little Song
  7. Otar Taktakishvili — Melody
  8. Giya Kancheli — Miniatures:
    Nr. 1
    Nr. 4
    Nr. 6
    Nr. 11
    Nr. 16


We would like to welcome our audience to this program, called “Behind The Iron Curtain”, featuring neglected Eastern European composers of the Soviet era. These works were chosen for their direct emotional appeal and their unapologetic embrace of tonality. Most of them reflect folk music influences. Being neither experimental, nor intended to rock any ideological boat, these beautiful pieces escaped the radar of censure as well as of wider celebration, resulting in undeserved neglect. We believe they deserve much more exposure. We hope that you will be touched by their beauty as much as we enjoy playing them.


Alexis Weissenberg (1929– 2012)

Bulgarian born Alexis Weissenberg is considered one of the great pianists of the 20th century. Being of Jewish heritage, he was interned as a young boy with his mother in a concentration camp, after being caught trying to escape the Nazis. A guard at the camp who let Alexis play his accordion, helped them escape on a train to Turkey. They made their way to Israel, and eventually he departed for the USA to enroll at the Juilliard School. He won the Leventritt competition, becoming a celebrated piano virtuoso  touring the world. He made France his home, gaining French citizenship. His works are mainly for the piano, and are much influenced by jazz. One exception is the touching Romance for violin and piano, which he composed at the age of thirteen in Israel, not long after escaping the Nazis in Eastern Europe.


Myroslav Skoryk (1938–2020)

Born in the Ukraine, Skoryk studied first at the Lviv Conservatory in his native country, and later at the Moscow Conservatory under Dmitri Kabalevsky. He was awarded the titles People’s Artist of Ukraine and Hero of Ukraine. He absorbed many stylistic elements, from classical to avant-garde, including jazz improvisation and Carpathian folk music. His music also embraces Biblical and philosophical themes. “Melody” is from his score for the film, The High Mountain Pass. Apparently, this original melody by Skoryk, in transcriptions for different ensembles, has become so popular in the Ukraine, that many people assume it to be an authentic Ukrainian folk melody of unknown origin.


Sulkhan Tsintsadze (1925–1991)

Georgian cellist and composer, Sulkhan Tsintsadze, studied at the Tbilisi and Moscow conservatories. He began his professional music career as cellist of the Georgian State String Quartet. He was awarded the Stalin Prize in 1950, and held the titles, People’s Artist of Georgia and People’s Artist of the USSR.  He composed operas, symphonies and concerti, but his greatest contribution to Georgian music is considered to be his works for string quartet. Elements of Georgian folklore are ever-present in his music.


Julian Krein (1913–1996)

Composer, pianist and musicologist, Julian Krein, came from a Lithuanian musical family. Celebrated as a musical prodigy, he achieved his first publications at the age of 13. He studied in Paris with the French composer Paul Dukas, returning to the Soviet Union in 1934 to live in Moscow. Because of his Jewish heritage he was deprived of the usual state support for his work as a composer, and did not gain an international reputation. He suffered much national neglect during the Stalin and Brezhnev eras. His music contains stylistic elements of French impressionism. He tried to eliminate overt Jewish characteristics from his music, but veiled references are sometimes discernable, although it could safely be attributed to other exotic folk music elements from in and around the Soviet Union.


Nikolai Rakov (1908–1990)

Nikolai Rakov was a Soviet violinist, composer, conductor and academic. He studied violin in his hometown of Kaluga, and later composition at the Moscow conservatory with Reinhold Gliere and Sergei Vasilenko. He became Gliere’s assistant at the conservatory, eventually becoming professor himself. His own pupils included famous composers Edison Denisov and Alfred Schnittke. Rakov was awarded the Stalin prize in 1946 for his first violin concerto, and was named People’s Artist of the USSR in 1975. A conservative composer who stuck to tonality, Rakov initially composed in a romantic idiom and later developed a Neoclassical style. His music retains a strong Russian idiomatic character. He showed a special interest in music for children and composed many pedagogical works for piano. Rakov’s works are mainly instrumental, including symphonies and concerti, chamber music, and solo piano works.


Yevgeny Svetlanov (1928–2002)

Russian conductor, composer and pianist, Yevgeny Svetlanov, was born in Moscow and studied at the Moscow Conservatory. He became a major figure in Soviet musical life, serving as chief conductor of the USSR State Symphony Orchestra for 35 years. He succeeded to a large extent in his ambition to record much of Russian orchestral repertoire of the 19th and 20th centuries. Since the advent of Perestroika he increasingly worked as conductor in the West, especially in London, Sweden and the Netherlands. His compositions, which include a symphony, a piano concerto, and scores for stage and film, reflect his statement that, “in music, I am conservative. Apparently, I am one of the last Romantics. I want to have my soul, not only my head, involved in the music I perform.” His Two Simple Melodies featured here are unmistakably romantic and Russian, but we would venture to suggest that some French influence is detectable in the second one.


Otar Taktakishvili (1924–1989)

Georgian composer, Otar Taktakishvili, studied piano and composition at the Tbilisi conservatory. He became nationally famous while still a student when his submission was chosen to become the Georgian national anthem. He was awarded the Stalin Prize three times, as well as the title, People’s Artist of the USSR. Appointed chairman of the Georgian Composers’ Union in 1962, he became the Minister for Culture of the Georgian Republic from 1965 to 1983. His works show close ties with Georgian folk music. He composed a large variety of music, including large scale works, but in the West he is mainly known for his beautiful sonata for flute and piano, of which he made a much neglected version for violin and piano.


Giya Kancheli (1935–2019)

Georgian composer, Giya Kancheli, studied piano and composition at the Tbilisi Conservatory. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union he has lived in the West, first in Germany and then in Belgium, while maintaining close ties with his native city. Of the composers featured in this program, Kancheli is probably the least neglected, having been championed by several famous performers, conductors and recording companies, especially since his move to the West. In addition to his large scale works, including 7 symphonies, he wrote much for film and stage, on which these five miniatures are based, chosen from a collection of 18 for violin and piano. It shows typical characteristics of his style: an impressive economy of means, and a balance of dynamic extremes, of sound and silence, and of serenity and intensity.