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Nikolai MYASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Symphony No. 15 in D minor op. 38 (1935) [36:42]
Symphony No. 27 in C minor op. 85 (1948) [34:58]
Russian Federation Academic Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov
rec. 1991-93, Great Hall, Moscow Conservatory. DDD
volume 11 in the Myaskovsky Edition
ALTO ALC1021 (Olympia OCD 741) [72:48]

 

 

 

 

 

Nikolai MYASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Symphony No. 16 in F major op. 38 (1935) [45:50]
Symphony No. 19 in E flat major for wind band op. 46 (1939) [23:33]
Russian Federation Academic Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov
rec. 1970 (19); 1993 (16), Great Hall, Moscow Conservatory. DDD
volume 12 in the Myaskovsky Edition
ALTO ALC1022 (Olympia OCD 742) [70:42]
 

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Myaskovsky was a contemporary of Prokofiev and features extensively in Prokofiev's diaries. While Prokofiev was something of a cosmopolitan, Myaskovsky remained within the Soviet Union. Prokofiev wrote in every genre including a varied roster of ballets and opera. Myaskovsky restricted himself to symphonies, concertos, sonatas, quartets, studies and some choral works. The theatre seems to have held no fascination for him.
 

The Symphony No. 15 is in four ripely shaped and expressed movements. This work too is radiant with the composer's trademark nostalgia and his rip-roaring cavalry charges. You get both in the first movement while in the second there are reminiscences of the catastrophic nightmare world of the Sixth Symphony including some really eerie music (2:19). The third movement is a fast-moving waltz with the emphasis on Tchaikovskian excitement rather than the voluptuous sway of the dancers. One can see a lineage here traced back to Tchaikovsky 5. The finale has fanfares calling out in the most magnificent blaze of triumph and a shade or two of the first movement of Rachmaninov's The Bells. 

The Symphony No. 27 – his last – is better known and there have been several recordings over the years. Svetlanov brings out the autumnal, meditative and melancholic colouration of the first movement with its remarkably Finzian undulations and gravity. Towards the end of the movement another ‘signature’ charge topped off with a stomping dance 'tail' is excitingly done by Svetlanov. He whips his orchestra into a brazen frenzy in the final moments of this rampant fantasy of a movement which finally transforms the charge theme into a raw and dazzling red dawn of a fanfare. 

The central adagio demonstrates Myaskovsky's art of placing and shaping woodwind solos with the after-tone of sadness. It is all done with lustrous grace. The finale introduces a quick-charging and rippling assault figure. A clarinet solo links back to the music of the first movement. 

In the finale, Presto ma non troppo the mood is developed into brash rodomontade in the bustling and here luxuriously italicised celebratory manner of Tchaikovsky 5 and Glazunov 8.

The sound has a very agreeable sickle sharp edge to it.

Interesting that the imported Alto-Regis adopted layout scheme for this cycle has produced two couplings in each case adding an either previously unrecorded or rarely heard work to a symphony that is much better known. Not that anyone can really claim that any of the Myaskovsky symphones are concert staples. Good though to see that one of his rarest, No. 13 appears in the exemplary concert programme for the Bard Festival in June 2008 in the USA. The conductor is the refreshingly adventurous and gifted Leon Botstein who has also recently conducted Shcherbachov's 1926 Second Symphony Blokovskaya alongside Mosolov’s The Iron Foundry (1928) and Arthur Lourié’s Chant funèbre sur la mort d’un poète (1921) (Avery Fisher Hall, 25 January 2008). 

Turning now to the second CD.

Composition of the Sixteenth Symphony began shortly after the crash of the giant eight engine soviet passenger aeroplane Tupolev Maxim Gorky. For a while it even carried the title Aviation Symphony. The first movement is full of intrepidly heroic and exciting music. The Andante has some typically melancholic-lissom work for woodwind - all highly romantic. The third movement has the reverent pace of a funeral march with the emphasis on the sound of the wind section. The finale makes use of the composer's own popular song The aeroplanes are flying in the sky. A deliberately wheezy clarinet introduces a sort of fugal section where the theme is thrown gently around the orchestra - a lovely oboe solo at 3:02. The movement ends not in a glorious blaze but a honeyed sigh carried by the strings and by a horn solo. 

The Nineteenth Symphony has been recorded several times before; most recently with Rozhdestvensky and the Stockholm Concert Band (Chandos). Before that it was recorded by its initial dedicatee the USSR State Wind Oorchestra/Ivan Petrov on Monitor MC 2038 (LP) and then by the USSR Ministry of Defence Orchestra/Mikailov Melodiya C10 20129 (LP). The Mikhailov version also appeared on Olympia (OCD105) in the 1980s and another version on Russian Disc with the Russian State Brass Orchestra conducted by Nikolai Sergeyev (RD CD 11 007) in the mid-1990s. 

The music of the first movement of No. 19 moves between a Prokofiev-style brusque quick-march and a sound very reminiscent of Vaughan Williams' Sea Songs and the Moorside Suite by Holst. Then comes a rather gallic Moderato like a fast tempo Pavane pour un infante défunte again meeting Vaughan Williams in folksong mode. The Andante Serioso has moving solos for trumpet, tuba and horns. It is most touchingly done by Svetlanov. The crashing finale finds time for a leisurely cantabile as at 1:19. In case you were wondering there is none of the bombast you might have been expecting from a soviet military band piece. Playful, gleeful, romantic and even a shade heroic but as for empty gestures not a one. 

The notes are by the knowledgeable Per Skans and are translated by Andrew Barnett – no relation. 

These two CDs are available separately. Two more CDs will see the Myaskovsky-Svetlanov symphony cycle completed. This will leave the ground tilled ready for Alto to continue with the non-symphonic works also recorded by Svetlanov with the same orchestra during the early 1990s. It will be good at last to hear the early tone poems Alastor and Silence. 

All praise to Alto for picking up the baton where Olympia fell. There are few examples of this sort of artistic dedication within the record industry. That they actually quote the Olympia numbers on the insert and booklet and continue the original Olympia design concept is admirable. The picture is completed when we note that these fine recordings of fascinating and unique repertoire are available at bargain price. The discs are irresistible and should be cheered to the rafters.

Rob Barnett

Miaskovsky Survey of Recordings by Jonathan Woolf


 


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