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Nikolai MYASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Salutatory Overture in C major op.48 (1939) [10:02]
Symphony No. 17 in G sharp minor op. 41 (1936-37) [48:27]
Symphony No. 21 in F sharp minor op. 51 (1940) [18:40]
Russian Federation Academic Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov
rec. 1991-3, Moscow Conservatory Great Hall, DDD
ALTO ALC1023 [77:14]
Experience Classicsonline

Taking the ten volumes of the now deleted Olympia series (see reviews: 1-5, 6-9, 10) with the Alto label’s continuation of that series (see review) it will take only one further disc to have all the Myaskovsky symphonies available on individual CDs. The present disc is No. 13 in the series.
This disc includes one of Myaskovsky's longest symphonies alongside the Third and Sixth. It shares a disc with an exuberant singing overture and the most recorded Myaskovsky work - the Symphony 21. Recorded by Ormandy and Morton Gould (now on the Bearac label) in the USA and by various Russian conductors. Svetlanov's is the most recent.
The Salutatory Overture (also seemingly known as the Hulpigung’s Overture) is so much better than its title and circumstances - the 60th birthday of Stalin - might suggest. It encapsulates much of the Myaskovsky manner: the tragic grandeur and the singing dignified melancholy. It is not the brash pot-boiler that we might have expected from Shostakovich's Festive Overture or the various examples by Kabalevsky. It is heroic and carries a sense of striving. Surprisingly its assertive lyricism has a distinct Rawsthorne flavour about it. There’s even an episode that recalls Hanson's Second Symphony.
The Seventeenth Symphony is an epic piece although the epic side softens into smiling kindness in the finale. The brass throughout are idiomatically Russian with that glowing part warble - part bloom (I, 5:00). The heroic aspects material is acutely judged and has a leisurely majesty – listen to those agonising and agonised trumpets at 4:20 in I and the superhuman striving of the massed brass at 12:03 and 14:50 – all in the first movement. The long Lento is intensely romantic to the danger point of sentimentality - it's a sensationally affecting and delicate piece of writing, complete with jewelled harp highlights. In this movement Myaskovsky is as close as he ever came to the second movement of Rachmaninov's Second Symphony. I recall this movement being used (Gauk recording now on Classound if you can find it) to illustrate Robert Layton’s Myaskovsky profile on Radio 3 in the early 1970s. The short allegro third movement uses the sort of chevauchée charge motif that we know from the symphonies 21, 24 and 25. However Myaskovsky astonishes with some writing of a delicacy very close to Ravel but with a folksy accent. The finale features a typically emotional Myaskovsky cantabile and writing which enchants through its expression of attentive kindness rather than grandstanding drama. The easygoing and lissom confidence of this movement also recalls Vaughan Williams in his sunny ambling mood. Myaskovsky in this work might be seen as the successor to Tchaikovsky - his writing is that effective.
The wartime Twenty-First Symphony is also superbly done and is here allocated a single track. Svetlanov's command of atmosphere is immediate. I had forgotten how the introduction before the ‘cavalry charge’ figure (5:27)) was so close to the expressionist angst of symphonies 7 and 13. After a moments of skirling power (5:45) and tramping fugal character (9:24) the music rises to a peak of tortured triumph. The work settles into a Sibelian shimmer at the close with some plangent bass-emphasised pizzicato writing.
The Seventeenth was issued previously on Melodiya (SUCD 10-00472) shortly after the recording was made.
It's sad to note the death of Per Skans for whom Tommy Persson provides an obituary in the booklet. Skans wrote the annotations for the Olympia volumes and all the Altos up until now. His mantle is now assumed by the capable and extremely well-informed Jeffrey Davis who furnishes the note for these two symphonies. Skans' notes have been a distinctive strength of the Olympia and Alto project but Jeffrey Davis seems in every way a worthy successor.
All the Svetlanov Myaskovsky symphonies are now available in a Warner box but the documentation for that bargain basement box is scant to put it mildly. If you want your Myaskovsky meticulously documented then the Olympia-Alto series is the one to go for.
Wonderful playing of music that has been locked away for far too long.
Rob Barnett


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