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Nickolai MYASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Symphony No. 24 in F Minor, Op. 63 (1943) [35:08]
Symphony No. 25 in D flat Major, Op. 25 (1947) [30:58]
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitri Yablonsky
Recorded at the Radio House, Moscow, on 18, 22 and 23 October, 2000 DDD
NAXOS 8.555376 [66:07]

Imposed discovery is probably the greatest benefit to being a music critic. Were it not for the numerous discs that come across my desk that I am obligated by my agreement with this web site to listen to and review, I dare say that there would still be a great deal of music with which I would never have taken the personal time to become acquainted. The music of Nikolai Myaskovsky is one such case, and for the record, I have found yet another treasure trove of splendid music. I encourage you the reader to explore it alongside me.

A prolific composer, Myaskovsky was born near Warsaw of Russian military parentage in 1881. A relative latecomer to compositional study, he entered the St. Petersburg conservatory at the age of twenty-five, where he was the student of Liadov and Rimsky-Korsakov. Amongst his fellow students was a young Sergei Prokofiev, ten years Myaskovsky’s junior. He graduated in 1911, but the auspicious beginning to his musical career was interrupted when he was forced to join the military during the First World War. The trauma he suffered during that conflict was to affect him for the rest of his life.

Never an ultra-modernist, his compositional style lies somewhere between the late Russian romantics and that of his fellow student, Prokofiev. The Symphony number 24 was written in memory of Vladimir Derzanovsky, a prominent musicologist and publisher, and a close friend. Like most of his Soviet colleagues, he had been evacuated during the Second World War, and news of his friend’s death reached him some time after the fact. When he was allowed in 1943 to return to Moscow, he began sketching the symphony, only to learn of the death of Rachmaninoff, another of his major influences, shortly after composition had begun.

There is a certain sense of melancholy about the work, however, it is far from a dirge. Rather, it seems more a solemn affirmation of the lives of his departed friends. Complete with a goodly battery of percussion and instruments, and a number of solid brass fanfares, this work is serious, but not depressing. It has a sweep and grandeur about it, but these elements are held perfectly in check by the taut structure of the movements. Never saying more than is necessary, Myaskovsky adheres mostly to traditional formal structures.

The playing is of the first order, although there might be the occasional over-blowing by the brass and winds with which a purist may quibble. On the whole though, maestro Yablonsky delivers well-honed performances with just the right combination of abandon and restraint. The Twenty-Fifth Symphony is a good deal more melodic and atmospheric, and dare I use such a trite term, pretty. Opening with a set of variations on a typically Russian theme as opposed to the more traditional sonata form, this work was seen by the Soviet authorities as an "epic portrayal of the Fatherland." (That is quoting the program notes, but am I not mistaken that the Russians refer to their home as the motherland?)

In summation, I find it a crime that the music of this fine composer continues to lie around in relative obscurity. It deserves a more prominent place in the concert hall, and I encourage the audience of listeners here to expand their horizons by learning of Myaskovsky’s music.

Sound quality is of the first order, and the program notes are informative and well written. Recommended very highly.

Kevin Sutton

see also reviews by Rob Barnett and Jonathan Woolf


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