Andrei Pavlovich Petrov was born in the then Leningrad
(now St Petersburg) on 2 September 1930. The city of his birth, for
long a cosmopolitan axis for Eastern Bloc and Western influences has
been the scene of provocative inspiration with landscape, painting and
literature all contributing to Petrovís music.
After studies at the Rimsky-Korsakov Music College
from 1945 to 1949 he continued his musical education at Leningradís
Conservatoire and graduated in 1954. He has held various positions of
honour including chairman, Leningrad Composers' Union and president
of the St Petersburg Philharmonic Society. In 1990 he was invested as
People's Artist of the USSR. In addition he has been awarded various
other state prizes (1967, 1976 and 1996).
An ambitious composer, his early scores were for orchestra
including the tone poem Radda i Loyko (after Maxim Gorky) and
the ballet Bereg nadezhdi, 'Shore of Hope'. Radda i Loyko
guaranteed Petrov one of his first mentions in ĎSoviet Musicí (publ.
Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow) in an article by Lyudmila
Polyakova during the early 1960s.
From 1970 to 1985 he was preoccupied with music for
the theatre including opera (Peter I and Mayakovsky Begins)
and ballet (Pushkin). The Romantic Variations and the
concertos of the 1980s are reputedly rich and colourful. The 1990s saw
his Christian faith asserting itself through a series of symphonies.
His film music treads the line between kitsch and sentiment. It has
secured for him a strong domestic reputation although little of his
music has travelled outside the Russian Federation; the occasional EMI-Melodiya
LP being the isolated exception during the 1960s and 1970s.
Petrov firmly and practically rejects any barrier between
popular and classical music. He may be likened to George Lloyd in the
United Kingdom though his melodic resource has been of a much tougher
and consistent sinew. He has benefited from the support of conductors
Eduard Serov, Arvid Yansons, Yevgeny Svetlanov and Yuri Temirkanov as
well as the baritone Sergei Leiferkus.
His Pushkin Symphony draws on Alexander Pushkin,
Russia's best-loved poet. The symphony is a collage of his poems, history
and folk-song. 28 June 1978 saw the premiere of the work in Leningrad
at the Oktyabr concert hall. Conductor, Yuri Temirkanov, a constant
supporter, directed the cityís Philharmonic Orchestra. Petrov has since
then extended the score into a grand ballet staged by Leningrad's Mariinsky
The Creation of the World ballet succeeds at
another level; that of entertainment juxtaposing jazz, 1960s chance
elements, playground songs and a collision between baroque and romantic.
This contrasts with the ripely Hollywood romance of the ballet The
Shore of Hope leaning right over the giddy edge from Prokofiev to
Franz Waxman. The Shostakovich-like grit and grime of The Songs of
Our Days assembled in a series of short (none longer than 4 minutes)
episodes runs the gamut from shrill belligerence to heroic clamour to
It is interesting to note Petrovís seeming preference
for the creation of structures through short sequences. This cinematographic
approach to construction can be found in other composers including Prokofiev
(e.g. his opera Semeon Kotko). This may well spring from the
composerís long-lived co-working with cinema and TV including, most
recently, the music he wrote for the Russian TV serial St Petersburg
Secrets [Peterburgskiye tayni]. This is a composer who merits
attention. How long must we wait for recordings of his Romantic Variations
(1988), Piano Concerto (1989) and his two symphonies: Symphony No.1
On Christian Anthems (1992) and No. 2 The Time of Christ a
choral symphony (1995).
The Russia of Bells is a gritty fantasy,
full of brilliance throughout the aural spectrum. The bass response,
in particular, is gripping. Petrov speaks of the excitement he has always
felt for the all too fleeting bell-ringing episode in Boris Godunov.
This set of variations is Petrov's free-form extension of the scene.
In it he makes free with cantillation, wild and sedate. He celebrates
the resonant decay of the carillon shadowed by the Dies Irae,
complemented by the sinister blare of the brass, the swing and the impact
of the bell clappers. The orchestration is of crystalline clarity accentuated
by real bell sounds. The more celebratory sections suggest the monolithic
magnificence of The Great Gate of Kiev as well as Britten's Sea
Interludes. This is a recording of the work's premiere. The Violin
Concerto is comparable with the Barber concerto but veiled in a
light mist of dissonance. The Bergian distress of the work coupled with
Stadlerís tone which has intensity of a dentistís drill makes this quite
overpowering at times. As an example listen at 13.30 to the deeply serious
threnodic climax. The last movement is turbulent with spiccato and sparks
rather like the Shostakovich First Violin Concerto. Stadler, whose name
may be known to you from Olympia transfers of the concertos by Glazunov,
Lvov and Tischenko, is closely recorded by the Russian engineers. Petrovís
ballet suite The Creation of the World has been the composerís
passport to international recognition. Its appearance initially on various
Western Melodiya licensed LPs has given him a precarious hold on public
awareness. The music moves from frank tributes to Prokofiev (Classical
Symphony), to a scorching saxophone solo, to African sounds (complete
with snake-sinuous music and bongo drums) to the long sustained climactic
Ave, Eva with its generous-hearted big tune curling and continuing
with every fresh and succulent turn as if it would never run out of
breath. The tune has filmic flavourings (a touch of John Barry here)
and even sports a wordless choir. Its leisurely luminous quality may
be compared with Silvestrovís Fifth Symphony. The collage of styles
links with The Circle by Andrei Eshpai another major ballet score
(recorded on Albany).
Petrovís candid eclecticism is engaging and the hope
is that there will be further recordings. The breadth of his palette
of influences is wide, taking in jazz (rather like Kapustin), musique-concrète,
the purity of Bach, the great Russian folksong tradition and a potent
Californian taste for melodrama.