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Nikolai MYASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Serenade for Chamber Orchestra in E Flat Op.32 No.1 (1927-31) [15:18]
Sinfonietta for String Orchestra In B Minor Op.32 No.2 (1927-31) [24:47]
Lyric Concertino for flute, clarinet, horn, bassoon, harp and  string orchestra Op.32 No.3 (1927-31) [18:42]
Salutatory Overture in C Major Op.48 (1939) [9:26]
Marina Stepanova (flute); Boris Sokol (clarinet); Kirill Arsenov (horn); Alexander Kozhevnikov (bassoon); Liudmila Yanchishina (harp) (Op. 32 No. 3)
Moscow New Opera Orchestra/Yevgeny Samoilov
rec. July 1993, Studio 5, Moscow Radio. DDD
originally issued as Olympia OCD528
REGIS RRC1244 [68:58]

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Myaskovsky is well enough known to enthusiasts as the author of twenty-seven varied symphonies and two concertos which have kept his name fitfully in the public eye. Superficially his style is conservative. It looks backwards towards the classic Russian composers of the late nineteenth century. As such he pleased the Soviet headmen; not that he did this to please them. In fact he too went through a trial of fire at various stages with charges of formalism levelled at him. His Tenth Symphony written in 1927 and recently freshly recorded by Dmitri Liss and the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra on Warner, was condemned for its gloomy expressionism. In fact Myaskovsky developed a natural predilection for melancholy, autumnal colours and tragedy often in masterful juxtaposition. His symphonies 5, 21, 22, 24, 25 and 27 and the Cello Concerto beloved of Rostropovich all testify to his gripping way with downbeat material – triumph through adversity, the heroism of the tragic.
There was another Myaskovsky as well; probably several more. In the three op. 32 works grouped here we encounter a project to explore song and dance idioms. In each work the orchestra is differently specified. The Serenade in its outer two movements mixes singing melancholia with vigorous Russian folksongs of the type used by Borodin and Tchaikovsky. Indeed the Andante briefly recalls the waltz from the Pathétique before introducing a touchingly vulnerable theme related to Russian Orthodox chant which rises to searing heights.

The Sinfonietta for strings is redolent of the writing of Frank Bridge (Suite and Sir Roger de Coverley) and Elgar (Introduction and Allegro). Another central Andante is memorable for its mercurial mood-shifts and a devilishly virtuosic violin solo. Gratifying stereo separation brings out the ear-tickling fleet-footed dialogues of the final Presto complete with a rewarding dignified melody at 1:03 onwards. The silvery consistency and gutsy attack of the MNOO is enviable.

The Lyric Concertino stands well clear of the desiccation of neo-classicism. Once again it is light on its feet and full of emotional effect without the grand gestures of the symphonies. This is highly accomplished music with plenty of inventive fibre in this case drenched and dense with complex and allusive material. After a dignified Andante Monotono heavy with murmuring nostalgia – perhaps for a Russia that has gone or maybe the nostalgia of lost summers and happiness forsaken - comes a light-hearted, flickering dance bright with children’s games.

The roles of the solo instruments tend to be rather as poetic interlocutors; there is none of the display-virtuosity of the Andante of the Sinfonietta. The small-scale suggested by the Op. 32 titles is not always reflected in what you hear. This is the sort of music that will insinuate its way into your affections with very little exertion. While they may well have been a politically necessary retreat from dense expressionism (to which he would return in Symphony 13) the music is lit with inspiration and the ideas are memorable. The three works link in some measure with the folksy symphonies 23 and 26.
The three Op. 32 works, each in three movements, were also recorded in 1980 by Vladimir Verbitsky – who turned in a better than decent Tchaikovsky 5 not so long ago (see review) - and these were issued on early Olympias (OCD, 105, 168, 177) as fillers for various Melodiya original recordings of the symphonies. The first two works also appeared on ZYX Music CLA10012-2 in 1998. Verbitsky is by no means less effective than Samoilov but he is not as well recorded. The microphones are placed very close to the orchestra to capture some coarsely resonant but raspingly vivid music-making. In the Poco maestoso finale Verbitsky makes something extraordinary of this music. Not to be dismissed then but Samoilov is the one to go for. Of course all those Olympias have now been deleted and only Regis offer all three of these wonderful pieces together on the same disc.
The Salutatory Overture was written to celebrate Stalin’s sixtieth birthday at the commission of Moscow Radio. It is brassy, vigorous and probingly romantic (6:19) but lacks the sort of grip on the memory that the Op. 32 works possess. The bright prattle, bells and fanfares is of the sort we have also heard, with a slightly different accent, from Rawsthorne, Britten and Ferguson and none the worse for that. Let’s not delude ourselves or take up too superior an attitude.
Good notes from James Murray again. There also material from Per Skans whose lucidly informative commentary with the miscarried Olympia Miaskovsky symphony cycle made the series’ early foreclosure doubly disappointing.
Adherents of Russian nationalism need to have this inexpensive disc. Do not be put off by the diminutive titles. Myaskovsky is a soulfully entertaining and wildly inventive creator of music and here is one chapter of evidence.
Rob Barnett


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