Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Nikolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Sinfonietta No. 1 (1929)
Theme and Variations
Two Pieces
for String Orchestra (1945)
St Petersburg Chamber Ensemble/Roland Melia
rec 3-6 Apr 1994, St Petersburg, Russia, DDD
ASV CD DCA 928 [55.41]

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The First Sinfonietta has inflections cloned from Prokofiev's Classical Symphony, Elgar's Introduction and Allegro and Grieg's Holberg Suite. In the hands of Melia and the St Petersburgers (a smaller band than Claves' Kremlin ensemble) the Mephistophelian serenade macabre for solo violin glares and f'lares. ASV treat us to a more technicolour effect than Claves. The microphone array crowds in on the players stressing layers of detail. Oddly though, the breathy and lapping pulse of the second movement of No. 1 does not proceed as easily as the pliable Rachlevsky version.

Also the ASV has a shorter playing time than the Claves (CD 50-9415). The ASV sports a glitzier sound picture with a shimmer and closer brilliance which might be tiring to some ears though it was very agreeable in the case of the Sinfonietta. The coupling differs also. The ASV and the Claves both include the Two Pieces (1945) and the Sinfonietta No. 1. In the Presto finale the parallels with Mossolov's 'brutality' are stronger in Rachlevsky's hands.

The Theme and Variations follow the end of the Presto with too short a break. The theme is dignified and Miaskovsky probes and searches it out in the andante making of it a lushly romantic episode. Otherwise the style is pretty consistent with elegiac Elgarian edginess and Last Spring sorrow with a trace of Slav accent.

The Andante Serioso of the Two Pieces rambles imperturbably around a theme that is part Skye Boat Song and part that lovely andante tune from Prokofiev's Classical. He is even given to tripping gently into Tallis territory. The Moderato is daintily graceful with a modest sweep and an emotional exhilaration owing something to Prokofiev's psychological waltzes as in Onegin and War and Peace. I urge you to hear this wonderful music. How difficult it can be for a composer to end a piece. In the Moderato Miaskovsky pulls off an utterly convincing closure - all equipoised understatement.

The notes by conductor, Roland Melia, are not as rewarding or wide-ranging as those for Claves.

The ASV and the Claves are not exact matches and it would be a pity to miss out on the Theme and Variations. If you must have only one then the Claves is the one to choose .... this time!

Rob Barnett

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