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Andrei ESHPAI (1925-) vol. 1.
Symphonic Dances on Mari Themes (1952) *
Violin Concerto No. 4 (1993) **
Symphony No. 2 Praise To Light (1962) ***
* All Union Radio and TV SO/Leonid Nikolaeyev - rec. Moscow 1980
** Jennifer Koh (violin)/St Petersburg Cappella SO/Vladislav Chernushenko - rec. Moscow 20/4/1994 MONO
*** USSR Large SO/Konstantin Ivanov - rec. Moscow 1964

I have known Eshpai’s attractive music ever since hearing tapes of various Melodiya LPs back in the 1970s. His first three symphonies are compellingly attractive works in a nationalistic accessible style. He is the composer of seven symphonies and many concertos. Even so he has not made the progress made by many of his ‘compatriots’ including Terteryan, Silvestrov and Boiko.

His Mari Dances are very romantic. They amount to a composite overture in sections. The first section starts with one of those long uncomplicated melodies of the Russian steppes characteristic of Rimsky in Antar. It rises in splendid string carillon towards more complex tonalities. These are never strained. In fact the music rather sounds as if John Williams might have been listening to Eshpai. Towards the end there is an atmospheric ‘whistling’ solo violin and then (6.28) a buzz-saw wasp flight of a scherzo dashes in. The bounce and élan reminds me of Khachaturyan but this impression soon decays into the mood of the first section where the tune (implying great lonely distances) is intoned by the cor anglais. The tune is of some stature: robust and long-limbed, rising in passion over barking brass.

The very recent Violin Concerto No. 4 is spikily Bartókian; full of dark energy - tossing and turning. Insect clouds alternate with flaming landslides of sound. Strenuous fireworks, hoarse violin figures and a quietly threnodic contemplation are all there. This is a pocket concerto like the Knipper and Rakov concertos but it is a tougher nut to crack than either of those pieces. The final section is jazzy and resembles, in spirit, Bernstein’s Candide overture. This is a live performance complete with applause and coughs - surprisingly few.

The Second Symphony at first comes over as a concerto grosso complete with neo-classical ‘jerkiness’. The sound world is not at all abstemious, adopting a Goossens-like ‘big band’ approach. There are dashes of Shostakovich-like gutsiness in there. At 3.35 the tender middle section conjures visions of emerald green and white-flecked depths. Hansonian brass writing intermittently stalks the pages. The symphony is in two tracks. The second track begins with the balalaika (oddly like The Godfather theme): sentimental stuff. This is a clock-slowing meditation rising at 4.20 and taking up the theme. Introspection gives way to a pizzicato string episode (5:53) clearly inspired by Britten’s Simple Symphony. At 8.08 the balalaika returns but with the addition of the high harmonics of a solo violin (redolent of Pettersson 7). The symphony ends with somehow completely congruous Hispanic stateliness. We are told that the second symphony was highly regarded by Kodaly.

The liner notes are principally by Victor Ledin. Alla Bogdanova and Dmitri Ukhov also contribute. The notes (7pp) are in English only.

No-one who loves the modern Russian romantics will want to miss this disc. If you enjoy this then try the other Eshpai symphonies when they come out from Albany. Also do try to track down Rostislav Boiko’s symphony No. 2 and Valentin Silvestrov’s Symphony No. 5.

Rob Barnett


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