Sunday, June 05, 2011

Baritone Michael Minsky's Ukrainian recordings: A historical treasure

Michael Minsky was a brilliant opera star who sang in virtually every major concert hall in the United States.


Michael Minsky. Photo/portrait from CD cover:
Bandura: Michael Minsky, songs of a Don Cossack
Born in Russia in 1918, Minsky studied music at the University of Kazan and the Moscow conservatory. When WWII broke out, however, he was drafted into the Red Army and was soon captured by the Nazis.

He ended up in a slave labour camp and then in several “displaced persons” (refugee) camps after the war.

Although ethnically Russian, in the camps he was surrounded by Ukrainians and soon fell in love with the people, the music and the culture.

He joined several choirs, including the Don Cossack Choir and the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus. From 1948 to 1984 Minsky sang with such Ukrainian musical luminaries as Ivan Zadorozny, Volodymyr Bozyk and Hryhory Kytasty.

In 1949 Minsky and the Bandurist Chorus traveled to America, where they were received at the White House and performed many concerts.

In 1950 Minsky made his first recording and  went on to record another 20 with various Ukrainian artists, including songs of the Ukrainian Legion of World War I and the Ukrainian Underground Army. In 1953 he was granted American citizenship.

Minsky was very active in the Ukrainian community in the United States and Canada. In 1971 the Ukrainian community in Minneapolis honoured Minsky with a gala concert. Later that year he went on a concert tour to Ukrainian centers in Great Britain, then in 1972 to Australia. On his return to Europe he produced a series of records with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.

By the mid 1960s, Minsky was spending most of his time in Europe. In 1978, he settled permanently in Zwolle, the Netherlands. Holland was where, in 1967, Minsky met his wife, Irina Jacoba.

Irina had no inkling of the prolific extent of her husband’s Ukrainian musical career ... until after his death in 1988. Astounded at the size of his repertoire, and realizing its historic significance, she took upon herself the gargantuan task of compiling and restoring the entire collection.
Somehow I ended up on Irina's bulk email list, and kept getting emails from her asking for help with the project.

Intrigued, I emailed her back a few times and finally connected with her by skype to get some details on the project and her progress so far.

What an incredible experience to encounter the fierce determination of this fascinating Dutch woman! Equally incredible was the story about her project and the love and devotion of her Russian husband for Ukrainian culture. (Interview on the this past Sunday's Vancouver edition of Nash Holos Ukrainian Roots Radio. It will air again on the international edition this weekend on PCJ Radio. Archives on the Nash Holos and PCJ websites.)

Working with volunteers, Irina has almost achieved her goal of compiling and restoring all of Michael Minsky's Ukrainian recordings. However, she is still missing these items:

ARKA 405a
Гей, пластуни! Пісня закарпатських пластунів. Слова: С. Черкасенко. Музика – Я. Ярославенко М. Фоменко. Сольо: М. Мінський. М. Фоменко: ф-но.
Hey, boy scouts! Song of the transcarpathian boy scouts. Lyrics: S. Cherkasenko. Music: Ia. Iaroslavenko/M. Fomenko. M. Minsky, baritone. M. Fomenko, piano.

ARKA 405b
При ватрі. Пластова пісня. Слова: Ю. Старосольський. Музика: Я. Пясецький/М. Фоменко. М. Мінський, баритон. М. Фоменко, ф-но
By the Camp-Fire. Ukrainian scout song. Lyrics: Iuri Starosolsky. Music: Iuri Piasetsky, M. Fomenko. M. Minsky, baritone. M. Fomenko, piano.

BMP 101a
Іди від мене. Leave me.
BMP 101b
Гей, маршують вже повстанці. Marching freedom fighters.

Ансамбль бандуристів під орудою Стефана Ганушевського
Bandurist Ensemble under the direction of Stefan Hanushevsky

TREMBITA 300a
Забудь мене. Forget me.
TREMBITA 300b
Тихесенький вечір. Tranquil evening.

Музика: К. Стеценко. Сольо: М. Мінський.
Music: K. Stetsenko. Soloist: M. Minsky.

SEAGRAM, 29-9-1951 Archive nr. 2000.097.r002.4
Арія султана з опери Запорожець за Дунаєм
Sultan’s aria from the opera Kozak beyond the Danube

RUSALKA LP
М. Мінський співає українські пісні
M. Minsky sings in Ukrainian.

UCH 302a
Гомін села. Humming village.
UCH 302b
Сусідка. Neighbor girl.

Музика: А. Гнатишин. Солісти: Мінський і Сілецький
Хор Трембіта. Дириґент – Кирило Цепенда.
Music: A. Hnatyshyn. Soloists: Minsky and Siletsky.
Ukrainian choir Trembita. Kyryko Tsependa, conductor.

RCA 2220
У мене був коханий, рідний край. Музика : М. Лисенко
I once had a beloved homeland. Music: M. Lysenko

О, ще не всі умерли жалі.  Музика – Яків Степовий
Not all sorrows passed away.  Music: Iakiv Stepovyi

RCA 2221
Ще день, чи два – аріосо з опери Кармелюк. Музика: В. Костенко
A day, or two – arioso from the opera Karmeliuk. Music: V. Kostenko.

RCA 2222
Як стрільці йшли з України. Музика: Р. Купчинський/М. Фоменко
When the freedom fighters left Ukraine. Music: R. Kupchynsky/M.Fomenko

RCA 2223
Мав я раз дівчиноньку. Мізика: Р. Купчинський М. Фоменко
I had a sweetheart, once. Music: R. Kupchynskyi/M. Fomenko
Альбом з двох плит. Богдан Пюрко при фортепіані
Two record album. Bohdan Piurko, piano.

Irina is appealing to the public to help her complete this collection of Michael Minsky’s restored Ukrainian works. She’s hoping that whoever might have these items would be willing to donate (or even sell) them to her. If you or someone you know has any of them, please contact Irina by email to make arrangements.

(Sources: Wikipedia, Antonio Hopla, Irina Jacoba on Nash Holos.)

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