The sober world of classical music recording is perhaps the last place
in which one expects to find subterfuge or intrigue. Thus, readers of
the review section in our last issue
were probably as shocked as I to discover that one of Le Chant du Monde's
(LCdM) reissues in their Shostakovich 25th Anniversary Edition was a cleverly disguised impostor.
For anyone who missed our January edition, the CD in question presents
a recording of Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony from Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
and the USSR State Symphony Orchestra. This first appeared in 1995 on
the label Praga, a subsidiary of LCdM. Praga proclaimed the recording
to be a Czech Radio broadcast from 1985. While reviewing the reissue in December, I was struck by suspicious similarities to the
same performers' 1985 Moscow studio recording, currently available on
a BMG/Melodiya twofer (74321 63462 2). Careful side-by-side comparison
revealed that Praga's version is in fact the very same studio recording
but, as hard as this is to believe, with an audience's coughing
and applause superimposed throughout!
It turns out that this is only the tip of a massive iceberg of misattribution,
the full dimensions of which remain to be mapped. Indeed, I am chagrined
to have ignored the alarm bell rung by Kenzo Amoh and Frank Forman in
their painstakingly researched Mravinsky discography.
There, Amoh and Forman report that Praga's releases of Yevgeny Mravinsky
conducting Shostakovich's Fifth, Sixth, Eleventh and Twelfth Symphonies are all identical to previously issued recordings, none of which are Prague
concert relays as Praga claim.
Regrettably, I discounted Amoh and Forman's findings in my reviews in DSCH No. 13 of Praga's Eleventh and Twelfth Symphony pressings,
reissued in their Evgeny Mravinsky in Prague boxed set. Misinterpretation
was the culprit. The discography argues that Praga's ostensibly live versions
of these two symphonies are actually studio recordings because in each
case, "the timings of the individual movements are the same, and,
furthermore, [each] sounds like a studio recording".
At the time, neither of those clues struck me as valid. First, the track
timings of Praga's Eleventh differed from the timings on the 1959 Moscow
studio recording that Amoh and Forman identified as its source (I did
not then have the studio Twelfth identified in the discography to make
the corresponding comparison). Second, how could one claim that the two
Praga recordings sounded like studio productions with their conspicuous
applause and other audience noises? On the strength of these data, I asserted,
"I am confident that Praga are indeed supplying what they advertise."
Discovery of the misattributed Rozhdestvensky Fourth made me reassess
Amoh and Forman's charges. My primary method for determining if two recordings
were identical was to play both simultaneously in separate players, monitoring
each recording through one headphone earpiece. When the recordings are
the same, they remain in synchrony, whereas different performances always
drift apart rapidly, even in the hands of the same musicians. Even when
the same recording has been transferred to different CDs at slightly different
speeds, it is still relatively easy to identify that the resulting gradual
drift is due to transfer speed variance and not performance differences.
I also used matching placement of coughs, stage noises and performance
errors in two recordings to render a diagnosis of common origin.
First, I compared Praga's Eleventh with Revelation's reissue of Mravinsky's
1959 studio recording. This revealed that the two are indeed the same,
although transfer speeds differ sufficiently to yield different track
timings. Kenzo Amoh has since explained to me that when comparing movement
timings for two recordings he calculates the ratio of each movement's
duration to the total duration, and if the ratios deviate less than 1%
between recordings, he concludes that they are identical. This method
corrects for transfer speed variance between recordings, and should be
reliable so long as transfer speed remains consistent within each recording.
As for Praga's Eleventh sounding like a studio recording: yes, it does,
aside from the applause at the end and other brief episodes of audience
noise. Amoh and Forman had not suggested that such sounds might be grafts,
and it never occurred to me previously that these might have been added
to camouflage the studio recording as a distinct concert performance.
In hindsight, however, the doctoring is ham-fistedly transparent. Not
only is a loud ovation tacked onto the end of the symphony, but also seven
seconds of ambient concert-hall noise are inserted between the second
and third movements. Note that the movements of this symphony are supposed
to be played without pause, as presented in the studio original.
As if this were not enough, the gremlins add extra "evidence"
that this is a live concert by superimposing more audience noise from
0:20 to 0:32 in track 3, resulting in abruptly different acoustics than
in the surrounding passages.
In my review of Praga's original release
of this Eleventh in DSCH No. 9, I noted the then-unexplained break
between second and third movements. Unfortunately, the differences in
transfer speed and acoustics between Praga's version and Revelation's
tricked me into perceiving all manner of interpretive and performance
differences between the two. I apologise to the readership for this embarrassing
I have since confirmed all of Amoh and Forman's reports of Praga misattributions
save the case of the Mravinsky Fifth, for which I have not yet acquired
a pressing of the 1978 Vienna concert that they list as its origin. I
do not doubt that Amoh and Forman are correct here too, especially since
Mr. Amoh's identification of homogeny is based not only on movement timings
but also on identical placement of coughs.
It would be difficult to argue that these cases are other than intentional
efforts to mislead the buying public. Most damning is the addition of
applause and other audience noises to the studio recordings of Shostakovich's
Fourth, Eleventh and Twelfth Symphonies. More subtle, but no less devious,
is the listing of recording information for the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies
that coincides perfectly with actual Mravinsky concert programmes in Prague
on those dates.
Casting my net beyond symphonies, I hauled in additional forgeries. Rozhdestvensky's
reading of Shostakovich's Scarlatti transcriptions, opus 17, on the same
Praga CD as the Fourth Symphony, hails from Moscow, not Czech Radio. This
is a straight copy, with no concertgoers added, of the original Russian
recording currently available on the BMG/Melodiya twofer entitled Shostakovich
I have also confirmed suspicions I aired in our last issue that the 25th
Anniversary Edition's recordings of the Taneyev Quartet sounded as
if they were transferred from LP. Simultaneous-playback tests show that
the Taneyevs' Fourth and Fifth Quartets masquerading on Praga as Czech
Radio broadcasts are actually Melodiya releases. By the time this edition
went to press, I had not yet secured the original Melodiya version of
the Taneyevs' Seventh Quartet to compare with Praga's; however, given
the latter's LP-surface noises, I would wager a large sum that this Seventh
also comes from the same Melodiya set.
Further tests reveal that the 25th Anniversary Edition's performances
of Shostakovich's Sixth and Fifteenth Quartets by the venerable Beethoven
String Quartet were originally Russian recordings of the Ostankino State
TV and Radio Company.
At present count, three of the four Evgeny Mravinsky in Prague volumes present performances in which Mravinsky was elsewhere. I have
so far identified seven of the ten Praga discs in LCdM's 25th Anniversary
Edition as containing bootleg recordings (the remaining five CDs in
this 15-disc edition offer modern recordings from LCdM's subsidiary Saison
Russe, to which no suspicions adhere). I predict that my continuing investigation
will uncover further examples of mislabelling on Praga.
There do seem to be genuine articles among the fakes, however. I have
tried but failed to identify alternate origins for Praga's versions of
Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony (PR 7250053 in the 25th Anniversary Edition),
Prokofiev's Sixth Symphony, and Bartok's Music for strings, percussion
and celesta (PR 256019 and 256016, respectively, in Evgeny Mravinsky
in Prague). All of these feature Mravinsky as conductor. Kenzo Amoh's
Mravinsky concert listing confirms that Mravinsky
programmed each of these works in Prague concerts on the dates given by
Praga (albeit dating the Prokofiev to 26 May rather than 25 May 1967 as
stated on Praga's original release). To date, all simultaneous-playback
tests I have conducted to compare these recordings with others of Mravinsky's
have shown them to be distinct.
The same applies to Praga's submission of Shostakovich's First Violin
Concerto (PR 256019 in Evgeny Mravinsky in Prague; PR 7250052 in
the 25th Anniversary Edition), even though this struck me as especially
fishy for three reasons. First, Praga credit this to David Oistrakh with
Mravinsky leading the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in a live recording
from May 1957, but there is no applause afterwards, even though the track
plays long enough after the final note for its reverb to die away fully.
My experience is that this work often evokes an instant response from
an audience. Second, an audience can indeed be heard throughout the rest
of the work, but the volume of their input varies, increasing suddenly
in the interval between the first and second movements. This doesn't sound
as if the concertgoers are simply releasing en masse the coughs
they were stifling during the first movement; the recording's balance
changes, as if an audience soundtrack has been turned up. Third, the Music
Library of the St. Petersburg (Leningrad) Philharmonic has no record of
Of course, the first two clues are circumstantial, and as for the third,
many of Mravinsky's programmes are missing from the Music Library's collection,
so the absence of one for the date in question does not prove that Praga's
recording is inauthentic.
The Praga discs caught dealing illegitimate venue and date information
have still credited the correct performers, so the obvious paternity test
for Praga's Violin Concerto is the only other commercially available version
of the work by Oistrakh with Mravinsky[1, 4],
a 1956 studio recording recently reissued on RCA Red Seal's 2-CD set David
Oistrakh: The Essential (74321 72914 2). There are, however, numerous
differences in performance and engineering artefacts between the two that
would have been difficult to manufacture in the editing booth. Oistrakh's
recordings of the work with Mitropoulos and Rozhdestvensky do not mirror
LCdM appeared to be unaware of the counterfeits lurking in their Praga
holdings when I informed them of these findings. Their director, Christian
Girardin, assured me in March that they are investigating my allegations
and that he will inform DSCH when the investigation is complete.
The company had not supplied a statement for publication by the time we
went to press.
As a result, I am still unable to specify when and how these misattributions
entered the production queue. All of these recordings are released under
exclusive licence from Czech Radio, so it is entirely possible that their
mislabelling and plastic surgery occurred long before Praga acquired them.
Regardless of the origins of this mess, it is now incumbent upon LCdM
to mop up. Until then, buyers should tread on tiptoe.
Misattributed Shostakovich recordings on Praga (Le Chant du
Monde) identified as of June 2001.
* Catalogue number of reissue within Evgeny Mravinsky in Prague boxed set; catalogue number of set is PR 256016.19.
§ Catalogue number of reissue in Le Chant du Monde's Shostakovich
25th Anniversary Edition.
Click on highlighted catalogue number for more information at Amazon.
Special thanks to Louis Blois for providing access to recordings in
his collection for this investigation.
 Amoh, K. and F. Forman. 2000. Yevgeni Mravinsky
Legacy: A Recording Listing 1938 - 1984. Japanese Mravinsky Society,
Tokyo, Japan. To purchase, contact Kenzo Amoh, No. 107, 1-12-23, Den-enchufu,
Ota-ku, Tokyo, 145-0071, Japan; Tel/Fax (03) 3721-3080; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 1999 edition, Legacy of Yevgeni Mravinsky: Discography, is
accessible online at http://plaza19.mbn.or.jp/~yemravinsky/discography.htm.
 Amoh and Forman credit Daisuke Kisagami for
first noting that Praga's version of the Fifth Symphony was identical
to Mravinsky's 1978 Vienna concert, and Hiroshi Yasuda for first identifying
the true origins of Praga's Sixth, Eleventh and Twelfth Symphonies.
Kenzo Amoh confirmed their findings in all four cases.
 Amoh, K. 2000. Yevgeni Mravinsky: A Concert
Listing 1930-1987. Japanese Mravinsky Society, Tokyo, Japan. Purchase
 Soviet-era recording data are notoriously unreliable.
For Mravinsky performances, recording information comes from .
For all other recordings, information comes from the notes to the releases
used for comparison, and should be regarded with caution.
 Releases identified with ""
were used by Kenzo Amoh. All other releases were those I used.