It always astounds me what can be found on the Internet – it seems that a search for even the most obscure reference brings up something of, if not intrinsic value, interest. In researching for a recent post on Nikita Balieff’s Chauve-Souris I came across a small trove of recordings that were made by the company. They were set down by the Columbia Graphophone Company, one of the earliest record companies, in May of 1927 during the troupe’s appearance at the Vaudeville Theatre in London.
|Nikita Balieff (seated centre-left) and his company “at home” in this undated picture.|
At the session they recorded ten of their more popular numbers (though sadly not Katinka!!!) on 10 inch 78rpm discs. Balieff gave brief introductions to each in his own version of English and in the absence of regular composer-conductor Alexi Archangelsky, Sergei Kogan led the Vaudeville Theatre Orchestra. The Madames Birse and Ershov with the Messrs Dedovitch , Kondratieff , Rondionoff , Zotoff , Shevtchenko recorded duets, quartets and ensemble numbers from the vast repertoire that the revue was created from.
There is much of the sameness to many of the numbers they recorded – ersatz versions of what purported to be authentic Russian gypsy, Cossack and folk music. No doubt the staging, settings and programming gave them the appearance of a greater variety. But even when robbed of their colourful tableau vivant settings there is a certain charming innocence to most of these numbers.
While singing A Russian Barcarolle (Русская баркарола) the Madames Birse and Erschova, and the Messrs Dedovitch and Shevtchenko were draped in tender tableau wafting on a rather unstable looking boat through Remisoff’s romantic garden. I’m not sure who the two figures are framing the action – perhaps they are hiding their eyes from some salacious stage business that we have been spared.
In his book Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions Richard Taruskin looks at the influence of Balieff’s theatrical entertainment on Igor Stravinsky – beyond introducing him to the future Mrs Stravinsky. He takes a slightly mocking, if not condescending, tone when talking of the faux-gypsy music of the Russian cabaret and The Song of the Russian Black Hussars (Чёрные гусары) in particular:
Les Houzards noir was an arrangement by Baliyev’s musical director, Alexey Arkhangelsky, of an old Hussar ballad, sung by a basso profondo accompanied by male chorus. “Before leaving for battle,” the program read, “the soldiers pierced with the consciousness that they are going to meet inevitable death, wallow a while in that voluptuous melancholy of Gypsy chanting (méloplés tziganes) which reawakens in them the old Slav fatalism,” etc. etc.Stravinksy and the Russian Traditions
A Biography of the Works through Marva
University of California Press, 1996
On this recording we have the inimitable Nikita introducing the number himself. Though his little joke about the Hussars in the Russian army now being red “like lobsters” may have tickled his English audiences it would have rang hallow with many of the exiles in Paris.
Though the numbers in the revolving repertoire of the revue – Saylor’s little publicity puff lists some 50 – were always a strange pot-pourri of folk and classics the next recording could almost qualify as a Lunedi Lunacy. Mme Birse and Mme Erschova blend their voices in that old favourite folk song О,пой мне эту старую шотландскую песню Дир.
O sing to me the auld Scotch sangs
I’ the braid Scottish tongue.
The sangs my father loved to hear,
The sangs my mither sung,
When she sat beside my cradle,
Or croon’d me on her knee.
And I wadna sleep, she sang sae sweet,
The auld Scotch sangs to me.
I’ll bless the Scottish tongue that sings
The auld Scotch sangs to me.
I find the combination of the Scots dialect words and the Slavic pronunciation particularly delightful and only wish I had been able to find a photo or design for this number.
I found these recordings, along with several others by the Chauve Souris company, on a remarkable YouTube page created by Bronisliva. Her uploads include Tangos, to Yiddish music of Russia and the Ukraine, Slavic folk music, opera and lied. A collection almost as eclectic as Balieff’s little revue. Many thanks to her for the wonderful collection.
February 4 – 1859: The Codex Sinaiticus is discovered in Egypt.