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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Andrei ESHPAI (1925-) vol. 4
The Circle – Apocalypse - A ballet-symphony (1970)
All-Union TV and Radio Symphony Orchestra/Emin Khachaturian ADD

The Eshpai home was a gathering place for musicians, artists, writers and other intellectuals. It was in this environment that Andrei grew up. In 1928 the family moved to Moscow where his father attended the Conservatory and his mother the Moscow Pedagogical Institute. Soon young Andrei began taking music lessons as well. He studied at Gnessin from 1934 to 1941. He served in the Soviet Army from 1943-1946. He then returned to the Moscow Conservatory where he studied the piano and composition with Miaskovsky and orchestration with Nicolai Rakov. He graduated in 1953 and entered the post-graduate programme with Aram Khachaturian.

The Circle is a large scale ballet score deploying a kaleidoscope of ill-assorted styles. To enjoy this you need to suspend disbelief and be prepared to ride the roller-coaster. At first we are treated to Karenina-like innocence which melts into the shades of Ravel's La Valse. Then comes what seems to be a pastiche of a flute concerto by Frederick the Great. The next transition jumps fistsful of gears and launches into what sounds like a pastiche hyper-Hollywood score from the 1970s with references to Windmills of the Mind the song from The Thomas Crown Affair. This decays into a rasping and slashing assault at 10.26 - raucous, viciously active and very forwardly recorded. It is as if the composer had shaken the world's styles out of a creative mill and infused each with the neon glare and blare of Soviet triumphalism and the great groan at the end of Bolero.

Episodes 3 to 6 include bell-like clangs of painful immediacy and thumping rhythmic corrugated attacks familiar from the wild activity of the central movement of Panufnik's Sinfonia Elegiaca. There are some jazzy 'stings' and ratchety maracas at 5.09. This is a recording red in tooth and claw and unafraid of confronting the listener with the full force of yawing and braying brass (9.40). This continues into the next episode with the Rózsa-like braying of cohorts of horns and trombones rising to a racking conflict only terminated by a gong impact.

Act 1 seems to chart a regression from utopian serenity to the arrival of jazz and of commercial kitsch influences that signal destruction.

The Second Act opens with flighty magic and childlike innocence similar to the music in Valery Gavrilin's suite A House on the Road and Valentin Silvestrov's dreamy vision in the Fifth Symphony. The innocence is evoked by a toy piano or amplified harpsichord which lends a music box fragility to the scene. This is quickly taken into devilish realms by a solo violin. In Episodes 7-10 innocence is confronted with desolation. A delightful bossa nova (recalling his 1966 Alexandria) appears with prominence for guitar and vibraphone and a lushly treated Caribbean-style melody appears as if John Barry might have shared one of his ideas with Eshpai. The last episodes move from the shivering tension of Shostakovich symphonies 10 and 12 in a series of mercurial stylistic swerves - the unabashed juxtaposition of styles. The candle power is turned up, lights cut across the sky and the scene is riven with the triumph of Rózsa's El Cid score mixed with Andrei Petrov's tolling and resounding bells. The flute of loneliness from the starting brings us full circle with the score ending in chanted calmness.

This is a startling and enigmatic work which may disconcert Western listeners. The popular elements reflect Eshpai’s immersion in mass culture in the 1960s and 1970s with an operetta, a musical and jazz experiments. Emin Khachaturyan directs a far from subtle recording of this far from subtle work in which stylistic gear changes are part and parcel of Eshpai’s instincts and creative force.

Rob Barnett


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