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Alexander GRECHANINOV (1864-1956)
Symphony No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 6 (1894)

Allegro non troppo
Andante sostenuto assai
Molto vivace
Allegro spirituoso

 George Enescu State Philharmonic Orchestra/Edlinger
Symphony No. 2 in A Major, Pastorale, Op. 27 (1909)*

Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra/Wildner
Rec. 1988 in Bucharest; and 1989* at the House of Arts, Kosice, Slovakia
NAXOS 8.555410 [68.22]

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Alexander GRECHANINOV was born in Moscow in poverty yet prospered at school where he sang as a soloist in the chapel choir and began piano lessons at 14. In 1881, when 17, he entered the piano class of Kashkin at the Conservatory in Moscow and in 1885 became a pupil of Safonov, taking lessons from Taneyev and Arensky. In 1890 he moved to St Petersburg where a scholarship at the Conservatorium allowed him to study under Rimsky-Korsakov. His first significant success was a Concert Overture (1892). The year 1894 was a prolific one for he wrote both his first String Quartet and his first Symphony. At the time of the Russian Revolution (1917) he left Russia for the safer shelter of London and Prague. In 1946 he became an American citizen and died in New York.

In Grechaninov's Symphony No. 1 in B Minor there is skilled use of Russian thematic material with a complexity of scoring which is far removed from the simplistic crudeness of composition adopted by the nationalistic Russian composers of the period.

A strong Russian subject opens the Allegro non troppo which is heard from the strings. A lightly contrasting second theme is then introduced with change of key and tempo, reminding one of Tchaikovsky. The romantic and dreamy Andante introduced by cellos and basses gives a contrast of mood and feeling which is strengthened by violas, whilst the harp continues to carry the rhythm. The ending of this movement runs into a Molto vivace which is characterised by a springy and energetic rhythm held by violas whilst the violins carry the main theme. An Allegro spirituoso provides the finale: a powerful opening runs into a sweeping theme which gathers momentum, and is punctuated by a hunting motif before leading us to a charming conclusion. Certain elements of composition identify this work as 'modern' for its time.

The Symphony No. 2 in A Major (Pastorale) was written 15 years after the first. By now contemporary Western influences have crept seriously into Grechaninov's style.

In the opening Pastorale an unexpectedly ominous figure opens the work, but this soon fades and we settle into a busy yet lyrical section of varying mood which is rather uncharacteristic of its Pastorale title. The Andante in C sharp minor has a first lyrical theme presented by solo clarinet with syncopated string accompaniment before the horns join in with a subsidiary element. An energetic middle passage is heard before we revert to the gentler Andante theme again. An ebb and flow so characteristic of Tchaikovsky adds to the emotional strength of the movement. This mood is broken by the Scherzo which immediately follows. A rippling and energetic opening leads into an oboe solo which gives us a feeling of space and Russian countryside. A second slower subject provided by the strings gives the impression of waving wheat fields and meandering rivers before bringing one back to the first subject again. The Finale seems to move further away from the original tonality, in a movement of rich enough variety but here the orchestra is handled with assurance and good use is made of the wind, as learned from his old tutor, Rimsky-Korsakov.

This disc is a reissue of a recording which first appeared as a Marco Polo release in 1989.

The recordings are well mastered and the two orchestra play with energy and commitment. The Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra plays less competently however, marred by an occasional out-of-step run by violas, a sluggishly attacked chord and faltering horn.

The disc carries good notes on the composer and brief notes on the Symphonies in English, French and German.

Raymond Walker

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