Three years ago, American producer Tristan Del signed a controversial contract with Russian authorities to bring recordings from Soviet archives to the West. On Monday, Mr. Del said the project is finally bearing its first fruit: a previously unreleased recording of a 1949 Paul Robeson concert in Moscow.
For the Russian-born Del, who now lives in Los Angeles, that means the end of a bitter battle for the more than 2 million recordings, which had been virtually locked up in the archives for decades. The archives include Dmitri Shostakovich playing his own compositions and Van Cliburn's winning performance at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958.
''We've been hounded by everyone. We've been called everything,'' Del told a news conference. But now, he said, ''All the negative is behind.''
But the fight is far from over for many Russians, including Culture Minister Yevgeny Sidorov, who consider the contract a selling out of Russian culture. They worry that the recordings will disappear into foreign markets, inaccessible to Russian listeners.
Del holds that he is contributing to Russian culture by sharing the recordings with the world, under the label ''Forbidden Treasures of the Empire.''
Only a handful of the archives' recordings were previously released in the West, and most have not been released in the former Soviet Union.
Many performers have supported the deal, largely because it allows them a shot at Western-size royalties.
''The money paid to Soviet artists was almost nothing,'' says Bolshoi Opera diva Irina Arkhipova. ''And we never saw any of the money from a recording sold abroad.''
The restored Robeson CD will be released this month by Fenix Entertainment in the United States and Europe. It will not be for sale in Russia because of concerns of counterfeit merchandise.
The black American folk singer was greatly admired in the Soviet Union, where he championed Jewish causes against the anti-Semitism of the Stalin regime. The CD includes songs in seven different languages, including Russian and Yiddish.