The Shellac Project NEW RELEASE

DG and Leo Tolstoy: the History Makers

Deutsche Grammophon’s revelatory Shellac Project unlocks historic treasures from the label’s archives. This fifth instalment includes uplifting readings by Tolstoy, great examples of bel canto and exquisite pianism from a Viennese master.

  • Leo Tolstoy reflects on nature of life in readings in German, French, English and Russian
  • Shellac Project time travels to St Petersburg in the age of the last Tsar to explore landmark recordings by stars of the Mariinsky Opera
  • Art of bel canto comes to life in great recordings by Mattia Battistini, Titta Ruffo, John McCormack and Hermann Jadlowker
  • Recordings by Austrian pianist Alfred Grünfeld, made between 1905 and 1913, evoke the lost world of Habsburg Vienna

Set for release on 1 February 2019, the fifth batch of titles in The Shellac Project – Deutsche Grammophon’s landmark restoration project, created in partnership with Google Arts & Culture – connects contemporary minds with the thoughts of one of the nineteenth century’s greatest writers: Leo Tolstoy can be heard reading short extracts from his extensive collection of philosophical and spiritual reflections. Other highlights include Russian songs and arias recorded in St Petersburg before the Russian Revolution by stars of the Mariinsky Theatre, a selection of recordings made between 1907 and 1913 during the golden era of operatic singing, and examples of the refined artistry of Austrian pianist Alfred Grünfeld. All tracks from The Shellac Project can be accessed as part of an exhibition on the Google Arts & Culture Mobile app for iOS and Android, and online on the Google Arts & Culture platform at

Just over a year before his death, Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) recorded extracts from his anthology Wise Thoughts for Every Day, otherwise known as A Calendar of Wisdom. Four of these – in German, French, English and Russian – have been specially restored and digitised for The Shellac Project. The writer’s universalist creed reverberates through the recordings, his subjects including the power of spiritual enlightenment, the imperative of personal responsibility and development, the folly of striving for material gain, and the cultivation of perpetual freedom. His thought-provoking insights, delivered in his expressive voice, emerge more clearly than ever before thanks to DG’s pioneering use of advanced digital transfer technology, which brings unprecedented sound quality to recordings made over a century ago.


Continuing the Russian theme, the titles in this fifth instalment also include recordings made at St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre during the closing years of the Russian Empire. The Shellac Project trains the spotlight on the artistry of bass Lev Sibiryakov (1869-1942), for example, whose enormous vocal mastery can be heard in Gremin’s aria from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, recorded in St Petersburg in 1912. The quality of the Mariinsky ensemble, meanwhile, registers in a sensational performance of the Quartet from Act 3 of Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar, recorded in 1909 by Sibiryakov with soprano Maria Michailova, mezzo-soprano Galina Nikitina and tenor Andrey Labinsky.



Students of past singing styles will also enjoy a fascinating selection of bel canto performances from, among others, legendary Italian baritones Mattia Battistini and Titta Ruffo; Irish tenor John McCormack, a star on both sides of the Atlantic by the time he recorded “Questa o quella” from Verdi’s Rigoletto in 1913; and the less well-known Latvian-born tenor Hermann Jadlowker, who joined the Royal Opera company in Berlin in 1909 and later became chief cantor of Riga’s Great Synagogue, migrating to Palestine before the Second World War. A further treat is provided by the scales, arpeggios and vocal exercises recorded in Vienna in 1909 by Richard Mayr (1877-1935), an Austrian bass-baritone who was convinced by Mahler to abandon his medical studies for a career in opera. Mayr, who sang Ochs in the Vienna premiere of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, here demonstrates his consummate technical agility in excerpts from “Professor Fischer’s New Method of Singing”.



Echoes of Old Vienna sound in 17 Shellac Project tracks recorded by Austrian pianist Alfred Grünfeld (1852-1924). He studied at the Prague Conservatory and in Berlin, became pianist to the German imperial court, and was appointed professor at the Vienna Conservatory in 1897. Grünfeld’s sophisticated touch and immaculate technique grace the recordings he made in the early 1900s of his own compositions, including the Etude à la tarentelle and Paraphrase on J. Strauss II’s Cinderella Waltz. The Shellac Project also features his fleet-fingered reading of Schubert’s Impromptu No.2 in E flat major D.899 and wonderfully fluid interpretations of pieces by Bach, Chopin, Grieg and Schumann.

Two new videos are available to accompany this fifth release – an archive recording of Tolstoy and a look back at some of the technical difficulties involved in the early days of acoustic recordings by producer and sound engineer Rainer Maillard of Emil Berliner Studios.

All digitally remastered tracks available through DG’s own channels
and on partner platforms including
YouTube Music, Google Play Music, Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon.


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