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Nikolai MYASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Symphony No. 24 (1943)
Symphony No. 25 (1947)
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
Rec. 18, 22-23 Oct 2000, Radio House, Moscow
NAXOS 8.555376 [66.07]

These two symphonies were composed during Myaskovsky’s last decade. The 24th was a product of his wartime evacuation and was begun in March 1943, completed by the end of August and premiered by Mravinsky in Moscow in December of that year. In three movements of almost equivalent length, it’s a work of appealing character written in Myaskovsky’s characteristic vein of noble seriousness. The horn call to arms of the opening Allegro deciso is followed by brass power, dynamic bass pizzicati and the unveiling of a consolingly eloquent lyricism in the orchestra. The gravity is accompanied by an ominous percussion part that hints at the unsettledness of all that we are privy to before the return of the brass but not forebodingly now … more in a contemplative way. Myaskovsky is often criticised for obvious thematic development and for pat overuse of cyclical elements in his writing but as has been seen before it depends how acute the ear of the conductor. A plodder will recycle; a thinker will subtly inflect and change the character of the music or will allow Myaskovsky’s voice true space. Yablonsky, thankfully, falls into the latter category. The Molto sostenuto is quite brisk in his hands – melodically he drives things forward. In the identical coupling on Melodiya back in the early 1990s Svetlanov took something of a leisurely view of the movement, allowing it to expand, but Yablonsky does allow the gravity of the lyricism to emerge and underscores the simplicity with which the movement ends, the reconciliatory strings predominant. Myaskovsky wrote wonderfully evocatively for woodwind and there’s ample evidence in the finale. The verdancy here prefigures some dogged writing later on – it’s most instructive to listen to the oppositional writing here - declamatory and hectic and then lyrically generous. Indeed the ending itself is withdrawn, secretive, and ambiguous. A symphony that demands investigation.

The 25th, the D flat major, followed three years later, Myaskovsky having written the work in 1946. One of his staunchest champions – and still one of his most acutely penetrative executant interpreters - Alexander Gauk premiered it in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire in March 1947. The opening adagio is graced by a long-breathed melody of wistfulness, flecked by a favoured clarinet. Throughout he cultivates a cellistic sonority – it’s tempting to call this autumnal but it doesn’t really have that quality. The central moderato is very brief, a slither of a piece only four minutes long but the weight falls on the Allegro impetuoso finale. This opens in a vigorous, rather bluff way that soon relaxes into a very special eloquence. Admirers won’t need telling from me how acutely understanding Myaskovsky is of the inevitable-seeming unfolding of a benevolent and affectionately lyrical line. The dramatic bursts that interrupt this threaten fugato development as they often do in Myaskovsky. As with the earlier work declamatory outburst and rhythmic drive contrast in an oscillatory way with moments of reflective intimacy. Yablonsky is good at extracting a genuine weight of Miaskovskian bass sonority and at developing equally a sense of philosophic seriousness and resolution.

Indeed he secures an excellent sense of weight and balance throughout. This is vibrant and sensitive playing and does Myaskovsky proud. The recent mini proliferation of Myaskovsky on disc will gladden many a heart and here’s another reason to be content. No complaints at all about the disc? None.

Jonathan Woolf

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