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Vasily KALINNIKOV (1866-1901)
Suite (1892) [39:11]
Cedar and Palm – symphonic poem (1897-98) [12:16]
Bylina (c.1892-93) [12:02]
USSR Symphony Orchestra/Evgeni Svetlanov
rec. Moscow, 1990
MELODIYA MEL CD 10 00169 [63:28]


After the thrills and spills of Svetlanov’s Kalinnikov Second Symphony performance, newly reissued on Melodiya [review], this re-release is somewhat more sedate. That’s no reflection of any ailing Svetlanovian powers - far from it - nor the 1990 recording; rather it’s to do with the music itself.

The First Symphony is generally held to be much the Second’s superior – though I happen to admire the Second greatly. But the Suite is really nowhere near the level of either. That’s not to deny its tunefulness or charm – two qualities abundantly to be heard in this performance – but simply to place it in the hierarchy of Kalinnikov’s orchestral music. It was composed in 1892 and cast in a straightforward rather symphonic four-movement structure. In fact at nearly forty minutes it’s certainly in symphonic waters, temporally speaking.

The influence is predominately that of Tchaikovsky in symphonic vein. The sombre, very slightly academic feel of the opening Andante can be directly traced back to the older man. The Allegro scherzando has a highly personable folkloric vein running through it. It’s a movement ultimately fuelled by the melodic avarice of the winds and they’re given free rein by Svetlanov to indulge their lissom songs. The slow movement is more problematic, especially clocking in at nearly nineteen minutes. The contours are fine, with an impressive outburst three quarters of the way through. The writing is otherwise stately, noble and refined – and also elegant. The finale is a muscular and rather imperial workout. It might have worked better remodelled as a Scherzo, in which form it would certainly not have disgraced a Glazunov symphony, or indeed one of Kalinnikov’s.

There are two companion pieces. Cedar and Palm was written between 1897 and 1898. It’s a tone poem, in effect, with a trace element of Schubert in one or two places – notably the wind writing. Elsewhere Svetlanov encourages some rude trumpet bray and jaunty harp arpeggios; wistfulness and watchfulness go armed together in this work subsumed as they are into the romantic string yearning that Kalinnikov so effortlessly unfolds.

Finally there’s Bylina, written still earlier, and a work that therefore predates the First Symphony. It’s an athletic and invigorating foray though, even at twelve minutes, very much too long for its thematic material. Its natural seedbed is Tchaikovskian ballet, from which Kalinnikov has clearly learned a great deal. The folk tunes are deft if not as deftly organised as they were to become in his symphonic writing. But fine to have, all the same.

Svetlanov proves powerfully in control of Kalinnikov’s folk-and-romance sound world. Everything sounds proudly vibrant and alive. And the recordings match the pungency of the playing in time-honoured Melodiya fashion.

Jonathan Woolf

Melodiya Catalogue


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